Torah thought forFriday 15 Sivan 5784 June 21 2024

Parashat Beha’alotcha

From HaGaon Rav Zevadia HaCohen Shlit”a, The Head of the Batei Din in Tel Aviv
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)

The Litmus Test to Ascertain Our Approach to Fulfilling Mitzvot

This Shabbat we shall read about the Mitzvah of Pesach Sheni, regarding a person who was impure or too far away [from Yerushalayim] and was unable to offer the Korban Pesach (Paschal lamb) at the first Festival, on the 14th of Nissan. The Torah gave them a second chance to make Pesach Sheni, on the 14th of Iyar, to offer the Korban Pesach, “eat it with matzah and bitter herbs” [Shemot 12:8].

The question is asked, why specifically on Chag HaPesach does the Torah give a person a further opportunity to celebrate the Festival to someone who was unable to make it the first time. Something which we don’t find in any other Festival, not with Sukkot, Shavuot or Rosh HaShanah. What is unique with Chag HaPesach that it was given Pesach Sheni?

To understand this, we will preface what preceded the mitzvah of Pesach Sheni. “There were, however, some men who had come in contact with the dead, and were therefore ritually unclean, so that they could not prepare the Pesach offering on that day. During that day, they approached Moshe and Aron. ‘We are ritually unclean as a result of contact with the dead,’ The men said to [Moshe]. ‘But why should we lose out and not be able to present Hashem’s offering at the right time, along with the rest of the Bnei Yisrael?” (Bamidbar 9:6-7).

It is evident that the mitzvah of Pesach Sheni was stated in response to Am Yisrael’s request, “But why should we lose out”, something not in other Chagim and therefore specifically in this Festival a second chance was given. In order to understand this well we will preface that the measure to ascertain a Jew who fulfils the mitzvot, whether they fulfil them against their will and with no choice due to fear of punishment, or whether they fulfil them due to their love of the mitzvot, is to see their response when they are exempt from a mitzvah. For example, due to illness, or a particular circumstance that exempts them from a mitzvah. In such a circumstance, are they happy and say “Baruch shepatrani” – “blessed is He who exempted me”, or are they distressed and say, “Indeed I am exempt, but I am very distressed that I am unable to fulfil the mitzvah and wait for the moment that I may fulfil the mitzvah”. We find an example of this in the Gemara (Avodah Zara 3a), the nation came to Hashem and said, give us mitzvot and we will keep them. HaKadosh Baruch Hu said to them, I have an easy mitzvah and it is called sukkah, go and make it. Immediately they went and each one built a sukkah on the top of the roof. HaKadosh Baruch Hu brought the sun out of its surroundings, and it became very hot and then each on of them arose and kicked their sukkah and returned home. The Gemara asks, a person who is in distress is exempt from the sukkah, if so, what is the claim against the nations? The Gemara answers, although a person who is in distress is exempt, then may then leave the sukkah, but why kick the sukkah? If they kicked the sukkah, it is indicative that from the outset they did this against their will and not gladly! Therefore, as soon as there is a situation of exemption, immediately they kick and are happy to be exempt from the matter. About this it states, “the end indicates the beginning” [see Nedarim 48a]. In contrast to this, Am Yisrael who were impure or far away during the first Pesach, and were exempt from making the Paschal lamb and according to the halacha could have said, “Baruch shepatrani” – “Blessed is He who exempted me”, and could have gone home lechaim tovim uleshalom, but that was not to be, rather they approached Moshe Rabbeinu and said, “But why should we lose out and not be able to present Hashem’s offering at the right time?” We aren’t happy that we are exempt but on the contrary, we want to fulfil Hashem’s will and since they revealed their intention that despite this their desire is to fulfil mitzvot and that this can only be achieved during Chag HaPesach, they merited that they were given the additional opportunity to fulfil the mitzvah, on another date, something not found in any other Chag.

This teaches each and every one of us an important lesson, to know what their status is in observing mitzvot, do they do this out of love for Hashem and like the words of the passuk “and if you love Hashem your G-d with all your heart and soul” (Devarim 11:13), or in contrast that the fulfilment of the mitzvot is “without choice” or just a routine act. Like the words of the Propjet Yeshayah “their fear of Me is like rote learning of human commands” (Yeshayah 29:13), which they explained as observing the mitzvot out of a routine habit or due to peer pressure, without thought or consideration when fulfilling the mitzvot to do them out of love for Hashem Yitbarach. The litmus test for this is what is the person’s feelings in a situation that they are exempt from a mitzvah according to the halachah, such as an ill person or a situation where the halachah exempts them from fulfilling the mitzvot, are they happy because of this, if so a person is obligated to strengthen their yirat Shamayim – fear of Heaven. Or perhaps they feel a pinch in the heart and say, woe to me that I cannot currently fulfil the will of Hashem, then his level of yirat Shamayim is good. May it be His will that we merit to carefully consider these things and that we serve Hashem with joy and with a good heart. Amen.

Shabbat Shalom.