This week we read Parshas Beshalach. In the parsha, we read of the great miracles that occurred at the crossing of the Sea of Reeds, as the Sea split for the Jewish people, and then drowned the Egyptians. When the Parsha begins, the Torah tells us that Moses took the bones of Joseph with him to bring them to Israel, for the Jewish people had promised Joseph that they would bring his bones to Israel with them (Exodus 13:19). The Medrash tells us that Moses was a wise person who took mitzvohs. While the entire Jewish people were busy taking the wealth of Egypt, Moses was wise and took the bones of Joseph. If the Jewish people had been busy just taking money out of a lust for money, then it would be very understood that Moses is pointed to as a person who turned to a mitzvah, instead of simply running after his own benefit. However, this is not the simple fact. When the Jewish people took gold and silver from the Egyptians, they were doing a very great mitzvah. Indeed, Hashem had asked them explicitly to do so. Why then, is the act of Moses referred to as one that is taking a mitzvah, and not that of the Jewish people?
When a person does a mitzvah, part of the “value” of how precious the mitzvah is, is determined by how much sacrifice goes into the mitzvah. Two people can buy the exact same pair of tefillin. One of them is a millionaire. Even paying the most exorbitant price for the most special tefillin is an expense that to him is insignificant. The other person is someone who struggles daily just to put food on the table. When he buys a pair of tefillin for his son, every penny that he spends is something that he feels and knows about. His mitzvah, all other things being equal, is certainly much more valuable to Hashem.
This is the point that the Medrash is making – The wise person takes a mitzvah; The wise person also knows which mitzvah to take. Moses took the mitzvah of carrying Joseph’s bones, not of gathering money, because he felt that this was a mitzvah of true dedication to Hashem, with no personal benefit from it.
The story is told of a Rabbi who was once offered a pulpit. He was told that aside from his salary, he would also receive a side benefit of matzos and wine for Passover, a lulav and Esrog for Succos, … The Rabbi told his congregants that he would gladly take a benefit of help to subsidize his rent, pay his utilities, … but not to give him the items he needed for doing mitzvohs. Those he wanted to buy with his own money, not to receive from someone else. This was the lesson that Moses taught us; a wise person will grab a mitzvah, even if it will cost him money, or he will lose the opportunity to make some money. The value of the mitzvah far outweighs any other value that we could think of. If anything, when there is sacrifice in grabbing the mitzvah, then the mitvah becomes that much more valuable.