Parshat Beha’alotcha: Who deserves a second chance?

The passion, the sincere desire, the positive attitude – these are what merited the halacha of Pesach Sheni.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
This week’s Torah portion, Behaalotecha, is long and loaded with many topics. One of the parsha’s central topics is Pesach Sheni.
This topic was relevant when the Temple stood and Am Yisrael ascended to Jerusalem during Passover to celebrate and eat Korban Pesach (the Passover sacrifice). But not everyone could make the trip on the holiday. There were those who wanted to go up to Jerusalem but were delayed on their way and did not make it in time; others were impure, meaning they had touched a dead body or other source of impurity and were therefore forbidden to eat the Korban Pesach; and still others who for any of many other reasons could not make it to Jerusalem to celebrate the holiday.
The Torah offers a solution to all these people: One month after Passover, on the 14th day of the month of Iyar, there is a second chance. On this date, they can come to the Temple and sacrifice the Korban Pesach and thus merit participating in the great national-spiritual celebration that took place one month earlier in Jerusalem.
This solution is a novel one. We do not find this kind of consideration of someone who cannot fulfill a commandment in a timely manner for any other commandment that is dependent on being done at a specific time. For example, a person who did not hear shofar blowing on Rosh Hashana, even if he wanted to fulfill the mitzva and couldn’t, does not get a second chance; he cannot fulfill the commandment at another date since this mitzva is time-sensitive. Or, a person who for one reason or another did not fulfill the commandment to sit in a succah during Succot, even if the reason was completely legitimate, cannot fulfill the commandment by sitting in a succah at some other time. This is the situation with every time-sensitive mitzva – with the exception of eating Korban Pesach.
Many reasons for this exception have been mentioned and written about. We will focus on one of them, which is relevant to our lives today.
If we look carefully, this halacha (Jewish law) of Pesach Sheni was not given the way most other commandments were given. Most of the mitzvot of the Torah were given by G-d to Moshe in the way described by the words “And the Lord spoke to Moshe.” He who initiated the contact was G-d and He turned to Moshe as the leader of Am Yisrael and conveyed to him the various commandments.
However, Pesach Sheni was given in the opposite manner, as it is described in the Torah: “There were men who were ritually unclean [because of contact with] a dead person, and therefore could not make the Passover sacrifice on that day. So they approached Moses and Aaron on that day. Those men said to him, We are ritually unclean [because of contact] with a dead person; [but] why should we be excluded so as not to bring the offering of the Lord in its appointed time, with all the children of Israel? Moses said to them, ‘Wait, and I will hear what the Lord instructs concerning you.
“The Lord spoke to Moses saying: Speak to the children of Israel saying, Any person who becomes unclean from [contact with] the dead, or is on a distant journey, whether among you or in future generations, he shall make a Passover sacrifice for the Lord. In the second month, on the 14th day, in the afternoon, they shall make it...” (Numbers 9, 6-11) G-d did not convey the halacha of Pesach Sheni to Moshe of His own initiative. This halacha was given to Moshe only after a demand was made by the nation. Only when people came and complained about their bitter fate, about not being able to fulfill the mitzva of eating the Korban Pesach, was this halacha stated that allowed them a second chance to fulfill the commandment.
The passion, the sincere desire, the positive attitude – these are what merited the halacha of Pesach Sheni.
We learn two things from this: First, when people expresses an honest desire and passion to fulfill commandments, and see religion as a privilege rather than as a heavy burden, it merits another chance that will allow it to fulfill its desire. The second relates to any relationship between one person and another. When we see that someone expresses a desire to start a new page, we should give him another opportunity to act differently.
The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and holy sites.