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Behind the Scenes

Faigy Peritzman

The intrinsic value of each mitzvah

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

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

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hlomo Hamelech states in Mishlei (10:8): “Someone who is smart will take mitzvos.” Midrash Rabbah (20:19) says this “smart” person is a reference to Moshe, who sought out Yosef’s bones during Makkas Choshech. While the rest of Bnei Yisrael were busy looking for the Egyptians’ gold and silver, Moshe was busy with meis mitzvah.

Yet weren’t Bnei Yisrael also busy with a mitzvah? Hashem commanded them to go look for the gold and silver of Mitzrayim; by doing so, weren’t they were also fulfilling a mitzvah? (Bein Adam L’Kono)

I’m on an askan hunt. It was prompted by a phone call from a close friend and neighbor.

“Sara asked me to reach out to you.” Her voice was tense. “You know what she’s going through, and she’s trying to network to find an organization that can help her.”

I assured my friend that I’d try to help and then sat down with a list and my phone, attempting to find organizations or askanim that could possibly help Sara.

It’s incredible how much chesed Klal Yisrael generates. Yet despite the plethora of organizations I contacted, Sara’s needs seemed to fall into the cracks. I was left with frustration; my efforts tasted strongly of failure.

And then I remembered Yocheved. 

One must understand that there are a lot of mitzvos in our lives. Yet not everyone realizes the various intricate value of each mitzvah.

Only someone who’s a chacham like Moshe, who knows which mitzvos to seek, will be able to prioritize and take the more “expensive” mitzvos. Therefore, when all Bnei Yisrael were busy with a mitzvah that was personally pleasant and profitable, Moshe was busy with an exhausting mitzvah that would not give him any tangible pleasure.

Yocheved and I have known each other since… well, since the day we were born. We even share the same birthday. We often get together for coffee, usually at her house, since she’s a consummate hostess. Her house is elegantly furnished with classy but comfortable d?cor. There’s nothing ostentatious about the place, but there could have been. Yocheved’s husband makes a good salary and she’s one of my few friends who don’t have to work.

She could’ve have kept busy ensuring that her name was linked with public initiatives or emblazoned prominently throughout the community. Instead, she keeps herself busy with many activities, most of which ran under the community radar.

She’s a member of the chevra kaddisha, often called out on cold nights to perform a taharah. She’s tireless when it comes to tzedakah, working with those who have resources to help those who don’t. She visits nursing homes and hospitals, her regular patients looking forward to her cheery grin and upbeat messages. She wades in where it’s messy and swims against currents. Yet there are very few who know how many hours she spends helping others who are treading water.

It took Moshe three days and three nights of exhaustive searching to find the bones of Yosef. When they left Mitzrayim, Bnei Yisrael were weighted down with gold and silver, and Moshe was weighed down with the bones of Yosef.

Said Hashem, “Moshe, you think that you did a small thing. I swear that what you did was huge.”

The Midrash says that in this merit, Hashem chose to deal directly with Moshe as leader of Bnei Yisrael.

I called her immediately and we schmoozed for a few minutes. I always enjoy Yocheved’s dry wit and self-deprecating humor. She’s the type who can discuss philosophy, hashkafah, and Charlie Brown, all with passion and humor. She always sent the most hysterical birthday cards and knew the lyrics of every song that we’d sung in our childhood. 

I also was privy to the fact that she finished Sefer Tehillim daily and davened three times a day. But none of that came up as we played catch up on our friends and family. 

“You know, Sara is having a hard time.” I leaped into a pause in the conversation to bring up the plight of our mutual friend.

“I know, I’ve been working on it. It’s being taken care of.”

With those few words, I relaxed. Knowing Yocheved, she’d already been on the phone with the right askanim, rabbanim, and gvirim getting them all involved in Sara’s plight. And knowing Yocheved, few will ever find out that it was she who worked behind the scenes.  

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 626)

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