The Torah in Parashat Beshalach (13:19) tells that when Benei Yisrael left Egypt, Moshe took Yosef’s remains with him, in fulfillment of the promise made by Yosef’s brothers to bring his remains to Eretz Yisrael for burial. The Mekhilta praises Moshe for devoting himself to this cause, applying to him the verse in Mishlei (10:8), “Chakham levi yikach mitzvot” – “The wise of heart seizes mitzvot.” Whereas the rest of the nation was busy collecting the riches of Egypt, Moshe opted instead to involve himself in the mitzva of tending to Yosef’s remains. The Mekhilta comments that Moshe’s choice reflected both his “piety” and his “wisdom.”
The question arises, why was Moshe’s decision to occupy himself with Yosef’s remains an expression of “wisdom”? While we understand how this expressed his piety, foregoing on the opportunity to earn wealth for the sake of a mitzva, it is less clear why this was a reflection of unique “wisdom.”
An insightful approach to the Mekhilta’s comment is advanced by Rav Yehuda Leib Ginsburg, in his Yalkut Yehuda. Moshe’s “wisdom,” Rav Ginsburg writes, was expressed in his decision not to try persuading Benei Yisrael to tend to Yosef’s remains instead of collecting the spoils of Egypt. Moshe wisely recognized that the people would not heed such a call, enthusiastic as they were about their sudden and newfound opportunity for wealth. He realized that nobody would stop what they were doing to get Yosef’s coffin, and so he just did it himself. Chazal were impressed not just with Moshe’s decision to tend to Yosef’s remains instead of collecting spoils, but rather with his decision to do it himself rather than bother trying to find somebody else.
“Chakham leiv yikach mitzvot” – “The wise of heart seizes mitzvot.” Somebody who is wise recognizes that sometimes he cannot expect others to do what needs to be done, and so he needs to assume responsibility. Rather than fruitlessly pleading with people, or complaining about their indifference, the “wise heart” steps forward with a sense of duty and fulfills the uncomfortable or inconvenient mitzvot that others refuse to do.