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“Moshe took the bones of Yosef with him …” (Shemos 13:19)

The Talmud (Sotah 13a) notes: How beloved were the mitzvos to Moshe Rabbeinu. At the time that all the Jewish people were involved in taking the spoils from Egypt, Moshe was involved in the performance of mitzvos, as it says (Mishlei 10:8), “The wise heart will take mitzvos.”


Moshe Rabbeinu was occupied with bringing up the bones of Yosef from the Nile. He was only doing that one mitzvah. Why do we refer to Moshe performing many mitzvos?

R’ Yosef of Salant explains that the words “chacham lev – a wise heart” imply a superior wisdom in being able to see the future, as the Talmud (Tamid 32a) states, “Who is wise? One who can foresee the consequences of his actions.” What was Moshe Rabbeinu able to anticipate?

The Medrash tells us that when the sea saw the bier containing Yosef’s bones “it fled.” The Red Sea split allowing the Jewish nation to walk on dry land, which strengthened their emunah in Hashem. It also sanctified the Name of Hashem throughout the world. A wise heart perceives the domino effect from one good deed that leads to many mitzvos.

The Medrash Devarim Rabbah concludes that Hashem told Moshe that not only was his attention to the bones of Yosef a very meaningful kindness in and of itself, he had also performed a significant act of kindness with all of the Jewish people by virtue of all the good that followed, i.e. the seat split and the emunah of the Jewish people in Hashem and Moshe was reinforced.

The Be’er Yosef relates that for many years when Yerushalayim was not under the control of Israel, many of the burial sites and matzeivos on Har HaZeisim were destroyed by the enemies. Bones were disinterred and lay about on the ground, which the Chevra Kadisha of Yerushalayim tried valiantly to retrieve and properly re-inter. One erev Rosh Chodesh Adar in 5728, the Chevra Kaddisha proclaimed an official day for gathering the bones. Thousands of people came to appropriately honor these bones that had been profaned by the enemy, which they collected and reburied.

Among the words of hesped that day, the Talmud in Makkos (23b) was introduced. R’ Samlai taught that 613 mitzvos were stated to Moshe, consisting of 365 prohibitions corresponding to the number of days in the solar year, and 248 positive commandments corresponding to the number of limbs that a person has.

R’ Chaim Vital writes in Shaarei Kedusha that the spiritual nourishment of the soul is derived through the fulfillment of the entire Torah. Each one of the 248 limbs draws its sustenance from the specific mitzvah that is relative to that limb. When an individual lacks in the performance of a distinct mitzvah, then the corresponding limb will be lacking its nourishment and can weaken.

We say in our tefilloskadsheinu b’mitzvosecha – sanctify us with Your mitzvos,” for with every mitzvah that a person does he adds holiness to himself, and particularly to that limb that corresponds to the mitzvah. The speaker expounded that although the bones that had been collected appear like lifeless dry bones, they were in fact filled with the essence of hundreds of thousands of mitzvos that had been performed in their lifetime. This is as it says in Tehillim (35:10), “All my limbs will declare: Hashem, who is like You?”

Thus, the words of Mishlei, “The wise heart will take mitzvos,” can be understood that all of Bnei Yisrael were involved in taking the spoils of Mitzrayim but Moshe Rabbeinu, by ensuring the proper burial of Yosef’s bones, was “taking the mitzvos” that Yosef HaTzaddik had accrued in his lifetime.

A poor couple came to the Belzer Rebbe. Their son had been declining spiritually for a long time, and now he wanted to marry the non-Jewish daughter of a wealthy man.

The Rebbe asked, “You have not thrown him out of the house, have you?”

The couple said that, as the Rebbe had instructed, the boy remained in their home, and they still maintained a good relationship with him.

“I am glad to hear it,” said the Belzer Rebbe. “Please convince him to come see me.”

“He will never agree to come,” they said, “because he knows you will try to dissuade him from marrying the girl.”

“I will not do that,” promised the Rebbe. “Please just get him to come in to see me.”

When their son came home that night, the mother told him that they had gone to see the Belzer Rebbe.

The boy said, “He will not convince me not to marry this girl.”

“We told him that,” said the mother, “but he requested that he would still like to see you.”

The young man was conflicted. Since he did not observe any of the mitzvos, he really didn’t want to see the Rebbe. On the other hand, he did have some warm childhood feelings and respect for the Rebbe. After some thought, he agreed to see the Rebbe alone.

He put on a yarmulke before going into the Rebbe, and the Rebbe greeted him warmly. “I hear that you are planning to get married,” he said.

The young man nodded.

“There are dangerous people in the world today,” said the Rebbe, “and one day you may find yourself in a precarious situation. Can you do me a favor?” he asked.

“Perhaps,” said the young man.

The Rebbe took out a pair of tzitzis from his drawer. He then requested the young man to wear them, and begged him not to remove the tzitzis under any circumstances.

The young man hesitated for a minute, and then stretched out his hand for the tzitzis. He promised to wear the tzitzis, and – as he left the room – the Belzer Rebbe closed his eyes and recited a heartfelt prayer.

The day of the wedding was a week later. The groom wore his tzitzis, and outwardly he looked like everyone else at the wedding, but within he was enveloped with the signet ring of Hashem. As the celebration continued, it became very warm in the hall. Many of the participants began to get drunk and began to remove their jackets and shirts. Finally, the groom himself found himself perspiring heavily and removed his shirt as well.

Suddenly everyone came to a standstill. The music stopped playing, and not a sound could be heard. Everyone was staring at the groom wearing tzitzis, until one by one the jeering started. “Those are the fringes the Jews wear.” “He’s a Jew.” He’s a demon!” The drunk men began roughing him up.

Fearful for his life, the groom removed the tzitzis and ran home to his family. The door was unlocked; he had finally come home. Over the next months the young man slowly progressed in his return to Yiddishkeit. The precious mitzvah of tzitzis had saved him!

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Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser, a prominent rav and Torah personality, is a daily radio commentator who has authored over a dozen books, and a renowned speaker recognized for his exceptional ability to captivate and inspire audiences worldwide.