Binyan Ariel - Parshas Beshalach

Why was Moshe secretive about his mission to recover the bones of Yosef?

(13,19) “And Moshe took the bones of Yosef with him.”

The gemora in Sotah 13a says: Come and see how beloved were the mitzvos to Moshe Rabbeinu. All Yisrael were busy taking the spoils from the Egyptians, and he was busy with performing mitzvos. And how did Moshe know where Yosef was buried? He went and asked Serach the daughter of Asher who remained from that earlier generation.

Tosafos there asks that surely Ya’ir and Machir the sons of Menashe also remained from that generation? And many commentaries have asked that gemora says further on that if Moshe had not busied himself with this mitzvah, would not Yisrael themselves have taken care of it? But Yisrael said that it was better to let Moshe take care of it, because it is more of an honor for Yosef that a great person should perform this mitzvah, rather than lesser people. If so, since they themselves allowed Moshe to do it for the honor of Yosef, why does the gemora praise Moshe and denigrate Yisrael?

A further question was asked by the Maharanach: Why does the gemora criticize Yisrael by saying that they were busy taking the spoils? Surely Moshe warned them that they must do so, as it says in Shemos 11:20 “please speak into the ears of the people, and let them borrow…silver and golden vessels”! Also, why does the gemora ask how Moshe knew where Yosef were buried? Surely this is a small matter for Moshe, who knew clearly even the paths of the heavens! Many also ask that this question could have been asked on the posuk directly, and not just on the Aggadata.

Also problematic is the language of the Mechilta, which says: “and Moshe took the bones of Yosef with him” - this teaches you about the wisdom and piety of Moshe, because all the people were busy with the gold and silver, and he busied himself with the bones of Yosef. Concerning one such as him the posuk in Mishlei 10:8 says “He who is wise in his heart takes mitzvos, but he who talks foolishly will weary”. The obvious question that needs to asked on this teaching, is that granted we see here Moshe’s piety, but where do we see his wisdom? And why did the Mechilta need to bring the end of the posuk here? Also, why did the posuk write “He who is wise in his heart”? It should have written simply "He who is wise takes mitzvos".

But it seems to me that all these questions can be resolved quite simply. The main difficulty that Chazal had with this posuk was with the expression “with him”, because it could have simply written “And Moshe took the bones of Yosef”. Now, Chazal have already expounded these words and explained that they come to teach that he took the bones with him into his section of the camp. But there are many ways of explaining the Torah, and so we will explain that the words “with him” come to teach us that Moshe alone took the bones, and he did not reveal this to anybody. Thus, even though he could have asked the elders of that generation where the bones of Yosef were, he did not do so, but rather he took the bones “with him”, with himself alone, without involving anybody else.

Now, the reason why did so was because when he saw that everyone was busy with the spoils, he realized that they might not think about meriting this mitzvah. And Moshe was worried that if he would ask one of them the whereabouts of the bones, they might abandon the spoils in order to involve themselves in this mitzvah, and he preferred to do a mitzvah completely by himself. In addition, the one who assisted him would go out with less than his share of the spoils. Therefore, Moshe did not ask anyone about this matter apart from Serach the daughter of Asher, because she was not amongst those who had been enslaved and so was not included amongst those who were taking the booty, and she told him all that he needed to know, as the gemora concludes.

It is now clear why Chazal taught in the Mechilta that this teaches the wisdom of Moshe, because with wisdom he did not ask Ya’ir and Machir, lest they precede him in this mitzvah since they are the offspring of Yosef. And for the same reason he did not reveal it to anybody else. And this is what it means that Moshe was “wise in his heart” - he did not speak of the matter, but rather left it in his heart in order that he alone would merit this mitzvah. Unlike “he who talks foolishly”, who foolishly speaks out what is in his heart to others, “his way will be weary”.

With this all the observations and difficulties which we mentioned above have been resolved.

Why did Moshe not tell Yisrael from the very beginning about the double portion that they would collect on the sixth day?

(16,19) “And Moshe said to them: Let no one leave over from it until the morning. But they did not listen to Moshe and some men left over from it until the morning and it bred worms and became putrid, and Moshe became angry with them.”

The Midrash on this posuk teaches that Moshe immediately became angry with them, and because he became angry he forgot to teach them that on the sixth day they should gather twice the usual amount - two omers for each person. Hence, when they went out on the sixth day and found that they had gathered double the usual amount, the princes of the congregation came and told Moshe about it. Moshe then said “This is what Hashem said…”, implying that Hashem had spoken about it but that he, Moshe, had forgotten to tell them. The Midrash concludes that this is why Hashem later said to Moshe “until when will you refuse to obey My commandments”, including Moshe in the admonition.

This Midrash is very astonishing, because it seems to imply that Moshe intended from the beginning to delay telling them about the double amount that they would collect on the sixth day. But surely when he initially said to them “this is the thing that Hashem commanded, gather from it each man according to his eating” he should have also told them that “it shall be on the sixth day, that they shall prepare…”! Also, why did the Midrash emphasize that he became angry immediately?

But it seems to me that Moshe omitted telling them about the sixth day when he initially spoke to them about the manna not because he had forgotten, but rather because he had intentionally intended to wait until the sixth day arrived before he told them. The reason for this is because he had already told them that “no one shall leave over from it until the morning”, and in the gemora in Berachos 9a and also in Pesachim 120b we find that sometimes the word "morning" can mean the second morning, that is, the morning following the next day - at least when there is an indication that this is the correct interpretation.

Because of this, if he had told them from the beginning that on the sixth day they will gather double the usual amount in order to leave some over for the next day, they might have thought that Moshe presumably was not contradicting what he had told them earlier when he had said that they should not leave over from it until the morning, and thus he must have meant that they should not leave over the manna until the second morning, but that they could leave it over until the first morning.

Therefore, Moshe decided to delay telling them about it until later, and thus they would understand his words in their plain meaning - that he meant the first morning. And when the time arrives he would tell them that on the sixth day they should leave some over until tomorrow, because thus he had been commanded. Hence, Moshe had not forgotten to inform Yisrael all that Hashem had commanded him, but rather he had intentionally delayed this instruction concerning the sixth day.

However, this still leaves us with a problem - after the men had left some over and it had become putrid and wormy, everyone would have known that he had meant the first morning. If so, at that time he should have told them about the sixth day and no longer delay Hashem’s instructions.

This is what the Midrash is coming to answer, by emphasizing that immediately when he heard that they had left some over he became angry with them, and since he became angry he forgot to tell them the instructions for the sixth day. And once that moment passed he forgot to tell them until the princes reported to him and he remembered his omission.

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