By Rabbi Berach Steinfeld
The posuk tells us that Moshe took the bones of Yosef with him when he left Mitzrayim.
The Midrash says, “Come and see Moshe Rabbeinu’s great love of mitzvos.” When all the Jews were busy gathering bizas hayam, the spoils of the sea, and enriching themselves by taking gold and silver from their Mitzri neighbors, Moshe was wise hearted and took mitzvos.
The following question arises. How does choosing one mitzvah over the other make one wise? In addition, we see that Moshe was mekayem only one mitzvah. Why does the Midrash use the word “mitzvos” in plural?
There seems to be a contradiction in Chazal when discussing the act of doing mitzvos. In one place we learn that if a person thought about doing a mitzvah but was unable to because of extenuating circumstances, Hashem considers it as if he did the Mitzvah. On the other hand, we see that the Gemara discusses in a few places that a mitzvah doesn’t count unless it actually was done; thinking or contemplating about it does qualify as a mitzvah. Clarification is therefore needed; is a thought sufficient for one to be mekayem a mitzvah or not?
We could answer with a distinction in the type of mitzvos we are dealing with. In the case of a mitzvah between man and his friend, where the thought alone would not help the friend, the thought alone would not suffice for the kiyum hamitzvah. In the case where one wants to do a mitzvah between man and Hashem, there is a special dispensation that a person who just wanted to do something and thought about doing a mitzvah, will have it counted as if he actually did the mitzvah.
With this distinction we can explain the difference between Moshe and Klal Yisroel. When the Jews were leaving Mitzrayim there were two mitzvos before them; to collect the bizas hayam and to take care of the bones of Yosef. Moshe’s wisdom lies in the fact that he took Yosef’s bones, which is a mitzvah between man and another man. Thinking about doing that mitzvah would not have been enough. Collecting the spoils of the sea and getting money from the Mitzriyim was a mitzvah between man and Hashem, so Moshe had that in mind and it therefore counted as if he did that mitzvah too. This is why it says that Moshe did both mitzvos. He was wise in choosing the mitzvah bein adam lechaveiro so it was able to be counted as if he did both mitzvos.