The Torah tells that after Benei Yisrael crossed through the Yam Suf, “Moshe had Israel journey from the Sea of Reeds, and they went into the wilderness of Shur” (15:22). The Midrash Tanchuma, cited by Rashi, notes that the Torah speaks here not of Benei Yisrael journeying, but rather of Moshe having them journey (“Va-yasa Moshe et Yisrael…”). The implication is that the people were not interested in traveling forward, and Moshe therefore had to force them to leave. The Midrash explains that the Egyptian horsemen who drowned in the sea had adored their horses and chariots with gold and silver jewelry, all of which washed up on shore after the Egyptian army was drowned. Benei Yisrael worked feverishly to collect the riches, and had no desire to advance to their destination, Sinai. Moshe therefore had to push them to leave the shore and proceed into the wilderness.
The Midrash’s description should perhaps be read in the context of the narrative that follows – the story of Benei Yisrael’s experiences in the desert, where they found themselves without any water, and then without food. There is bitter irony in the fact that the people worked tirelessly to amass the riches of Egypt, but then three days later were without water (15:22). All the gold and silver they collected suddenly became valueless. Traveling in the searing desert without water, all the jewelry in the world could not help them. They invested a great deal of time and energy into collecting the Egyptians’ riches, which proved to be utterly worthless just three days later.
The Midrash, then, perhaps warns us of the tendency to devote time and resources on vanity and on pursuits which do not really help us in the long run. We sometimes get caught up in the glitter of the “gold and silver,” in the glamor and hype associated with things which offer us little or any valuable benefit. Just as the riches of Egypt did not help Benei Yisrael in the desert, much of what we spend our time and effort accumulating does not benefit us in the long run. Chazal here remind us to carefully consider which assets we want to invest time and effort accumulating, and to know when it’s time to “move on” to more valuable and worthwhile undertakings.