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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Beshalach

A Chip Off The Old Rock

223
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Money. Wealth. Riches. Certainly this is one of THE driving forces in life; almost all human beings have an innate, inbred desire to make money and amass wealth. And this is true not only in capitalist societies; even in communist countries, even on socialist kibbutzim, people crave money, because money buys things. And we all want "things."

Our parsha tells us that as Bnei Yisrael prepared to exit Egypt, Moshe took the bones of Yosef with him (his coffin had been put in the Nile) for reburial in Israel, as Yosef had requested two centuries earlier. Says G’mara Sota: "While the people were busy gathering gold, silver and other precious objects (from the Egyptians), Moshe was gathering Mitzvot."

Interesting. Just what would the people do with these items in the desert? What could they "buy" with it? True, they could donate it for the Mishkan (the gold Menora, the silver trumpets, etc) but it is the rare person who davka collects money in order to give it away, even if he gets public recognition for his charitable act.

So we see that the acquisition of wealth has intrinsic value for many people; perhaps they feel secure with it, perhaps they believe they will be respected by others if they are rich. Indeed, some of our greatest sages were very wealthy: Rav Yehuda HaNasi, Abravanel and Rashi come to mind; Rav Soloveicheik was also quite "well off." There is even a belief that, since prosperity comes only from Hashem, being wealthy is an indication that this person has been specifically blessed by G-d, and so his wealth may be worn as a badge of honor.

But Moshe qualifies this a bit by showing the people, through his precise attention to Yosef’s wishes, that Mitzvot are also of great – or even greater – value. Every act of chesed is a diamond; every act of piety is a gold nugget. And their value transcends this world; for while you can’t take your money with you when you die - as they say, there are no pockets in burial shrouds/tachrichim! - your Mitzvot accompany you to Olam Haba and pay for your "entrance ticket" there.

Furthermore, Hashem promises that we will not suffer any monetary loss whatsoever due to our performance of Mitzvot. To prove the point, G-d tells Moshe, "p’sal l’cha;"YOU, not Me. will hew the 2nd set of Luchot!" As a by-product of doing so, Moshe collected the chips that came off the Luchot – which were made of precious stone – and so he had more than his share of material wealth as well. Hashem provides!

When the eternal brachot are given to Yakov and Esav by father Yitzchak, each blessing contains the promise of the "fat of the land" (materialism) as well as the "dew of Heaven," (spirituality). The only difference between them? Which one comes first - which one is primary.

That consideration, then and now, is for all of us to choose.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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