From the sea they didn’t want to leave, from the mountain they couldn’t get away fast enough.
The Torah tells us that after the miraculous splitting of the sea, all the Egyptian gold and jewelry was washed ashore, and the Jewish people were hesitant to lose the opportunity to gather it in — Moshe had to force them to leave (Exodus 15:22). The opposite was true when leaving Mount Sinai (Numbers 10:33). The Rabbis tell us that they left “like a child running away from school” leaving before G-d had a chance (so to speak) to give them more commandments.
While no doubt many of us would also be more excited about getting extra gold than extra commandments, the Rabbis teach that this is not the way it should be. Mitzvos (commandments) are to be viewed as opportunities, not burdens, and have eternal value, while gold and silver are temporal, and were essentially valueless in the desert. With G-d taking care of their every need, they really were nothing more than a burden.
Despite their having their priorities skewed, and seemingly rejecting Divine gifts, the immediate continuation of the verse in the Torah tells us that God continued to “go before them” taking care of their every need.
The Rabbis learn important lessons from these episodes. Sometimes those close to us disappoint, taking our positive overtures and comments as critiques and burdens. We naturally feel very hurt. But a fundamental principle of the Torah is Imitatio Dei — human beings created in the image of G-d have the unique responsibility to follow in His compassionate ways. He didn’t let His “rejection” deter His continued compassion, when our loved ones disappoint us we are to do the same.
None of the above means that G-d does not punish those who do not fulfill the Divine will. Indeed the Torah and the Rabbis stress that there are consequences to our actions, and we may not assume that G-d will look away. But interestingly and fundamentally, when dealing with others, the Rabbis teach that we most only learn from G-ds compassionate ways, vengeance is for G-d alone. Based on Proverbs (17:26) the Talmud emphasizes that the righteous don’t want to see the wicked punished, they want them to improve their ways (See Talmud Berachos pages 7 and 10).
So learn the lessons of the Parsha well – continue to be dedicated to those who disappoint you, and by doing so you will be getting a Mitzvah which really is more precious than all the gold in the world (see Psalms 19).
Rabbi Yitzchok Oratz is the Rabbi and Director of the Monmouth Torah Links community. Shortly after receiving his semicha (rabbinic ordination) from Bais Medrash Govoha, the famed Lakewood Yeshiva, Rabbi Oratz, along with his wife Toby and family, moved to Marlboro, NJ where they co-founded the MTL community in 2001. Aside for his “Devar on the Par” that he writes for MTL, his writings have also been published on Aish, Times of Israel, Seforim Blog, Hakira, and in various Rabbinic journals. Rabbi Oratz looks forward to continuing teaching Torah in away that is timely and timeless, and sharing meaningful Jewish experiences with the amazing MTL community.