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The Systems of the Jewish Year

An Honest Mitzvah

By Rabbi Yaacov Haber

When Amalek attacked Israel, Moses ordered Joshua to lead the battle against Amalek. He himself went to a hilltop with Aaron and Hur. The fortunes of battle shifted depending on whether Moses’ arms were raised or not. As long as his arms were raised, the children of Israel did well, but whenever his arms grew tired and fell, the tide of battle turned against them. This problem was solved by Aaron and Hur seating Moses on a stone, and supporting his arms, one on each side.

Moses tired! Nowhere else does the Torah speak of Moses’ physical limitations. On the contrary, we usually read how strong he was: he killed an Egyptian with a single blow, and chased away the shepherds who were giving Jethro’s daughters a hard time. Even on the final days of his life he was strong! Why here was he so tired?

Rashi explains (on Exod.17:12) that his arms grew tired as a punishment for his laziness, in getting someone else to lead the battle, while he stood on the sidelines.

Moses lazy! According to the Ramban (quoting the Pirke de R’ Eliezer) Moses was not just standing idly by! He was actually busy leading the children of Israel in prayer, and raising his arms was part of this activity.

And yet Rashi comments that Moses had opted for the easy way out! It seems that Moses had to make a choice between two mitzvot: either to lead the Israelites in battle, or to lead them in prayer, and (according to Rashi) he chose the easy option—he made the wrong choice.

Earlier in the parsha we read (13:19) how Moses had carried the bones of Joseph with him in the Exodus from Egypt, as Joseph had wanted. The Midrash explains that Moses had actually disinterred these bones during the time that the Jews were taking gold, silver and jewels from the Egyptians prior to their departure. Here again, Moses had a choice of mitzvot to perform—to dig up Joseph’s bones, or to join in the taking of jewelry from the Egyptians. This time he chose the hard mitzvah! For by digging up the bones, he was depriving himself of the opportunity to enrich himself, as all his fellow Jews were doing. The Midrash tells us how valuable this Mitzvah was, for it was worth all the wealth he did not get!

So on this occasion Moses chose the right mitzvah to perform.

I was once told by someone who could not make morning minyan: “By sleeping in, I was performing the mitzvah of “ushmartem et nafshotaychem” (guarding your health) Amazing that he had to perform this mitzvah precisely at 7:00 am!

Honesty! Whenever we perform a mitzvah, we should ask ourselves whether our motive is perhaps to avoid doing some other less pleasant, but more important, mitzvah.

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