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Parashat Beshalah- The Wisdom of Prioritization

The Torah tells us in the beginning of Parashat Beshalah that at the time when Beneh Yisrael left Egypt, Moshe Rabbenu took the remains of Yosef and brought them with him, so they could be buried in Eretz Yisrael. Before Yosef’s death, he made his brothers promise to bring his remains out of Egypt for burial in Eretz Yisrael, and Moshe ensured that this promise was fulfilled at the time of the Exodus.

The Midrash teaches that King Shelomo had this event in mind when he wrote in the Book of Mishleh (10:8), "Hacham Leb Yikah Misvot" – "A person with a wise heart takes Misvot." While the rest of Beneh Yisrael were busy collecting the belongings of the Egyptians, Moshe was busy performing the Misva of bringing Yosef’s remains. Moshe’s efforts impressed Shelomo, who saw this as a reflection of Moshe’s unique "wisdom."

Why is doing Misvot considered "wisdom"? We readily understand that it is admirable for one to involve oneself in Misvot rather than in the pursuit of wealth. But why does this reflect Moshe’s "wisdom"?

Rav Shimon Schwab (1908-1993) explained that Moshe’s "wisdom" was expressed not in choosing to perform a Misva, but rather in his ability to prioritize when he was confronted with several Misvot. God had commanded Beneh Yisrael to take the riches of Egypt with them as they left, and, as such, collecting the Egyptians’ possessions was also a Misva. Moshe thus had to decide whether to involve himself in the Misva of taking the spoils of Egypt, or in the Misva of bringing Yosef’s remains. This was not a simple choice between doing a Misva and pursuing personal gain. Rather, it was a complex decision between performing one Misva and performing another Misva. And this decision requires wisdom.

There are various reasons given for why Moshe chose to devote himself to the Misva of Yosef’s remains instead of collecting the spoils of Egypt. One explanation is that Moshe chose to perform the Misva that was less likely to be tended to by others. Beneh Yisrael were, of course, quite eager and ready to collect the Egyptians’ wealth; there were plenty of people able and willing to perform that Misva. Yosef’s remains, however, were likely to be neglected, and Moshe therefore prioritized this Misva. Another possibility is that since Yosef, who was the vizier of Egypt, afforded his father the honor of personally transporting his remains to Eretz Yisrael for burial, he deserved the same honor of having a distinguished leader bring his remains out of Egypt. Therefore, Moshe, as the leader of Beneh Yisrael, felt it was appropriate and necessary for him to personally transport Yosef’s remains.

Either way, Moshe exhibited "wisdom" through his careful and skillful prioritization of Misvot. Choosing good over evil, or even good over something neutral, is not always easy, but the decision is clear and straightforward. The more complicated questions that we must deal with as we go through life involve prioritizing when we face many important projects and Misva opportunities. My Rabbis, for example, would remain in Yeshiva rather than attend a Berit Mila, even of a relative, unless they were serving as Sandak or performing some other role in the celebration. Studying Torah and attending a Berit Mila celebration are both important Misvot – and it takes a good deal of wisdom to choose which Misva to perform when the two conflict. We cannot be flippant or impulsive when it comes to Misvot, selecting Misvot at whim. We need to think carefully and evaluate how to prioritize our limited time, energy and resources, so that we spend our lives not simply doing Misvot – but doing the right Misvot at the right time.

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