Rabbi Oury Cherki

Beha'alotchah - Redemption from Below

Translated from Hebrew. Published at the Noahide World Center website and in Shabbat B'Shabbato.

Pesach Sheini – the second Pesach sacrifice brought by people who missed the opportunity to offer the first sacrifice – is different from all the other mitzvot in the Torah. "And there were men who were ritually impure because of contact with the dead, so they could not bring the Pesach on that day... And those people said to him (to Moses)... Why should we be left out and not be able to offer G-d's sacrifice at the proper time among the Children of Israel?" [Numbers 9:6-7]. In order to alleviate their distress, the Torah commands that whoever cannot bring the Pesach in Nissan, at the first opportunity, because they are either ritually impure or far away from the Temple, can bring it a month later, on the fourteenth of Iyar.

However, we do not find that somebody who was not able to sit in a Succah is allowed to make a second one later on. Or that a person who was forced to eat on Yom Kippur marks the fast day at a later date! There is a broad principle that "If one is forced not to observe a mitzva G-d does not hold him responsible" [Avoda Zara 54a]. If so, why should a person be obligated to bring a replacement sacrifice? What would be so terrible if a person misses the Pesach because he or she was forced by circumstances?

The answer is that this case is unique, in that "a person must see himself as if he himself has just been freed from the bondage in Egypt" [Rambam, Hilchot Chametz U'Matza]. And this takes place on the night of the Seder, as part of the celebration of the holiday of Pesach. But a person who is not freed from Egypt is not part of the nation of Israel, as it were, and he cannot receive the Torah. He thus has until the holiday of Shavuot to mend the situation and to once again become part of the nation.

The initiative of the nation to make up for the incomplete observation of Pesach takes place in the month of Iyar, on the date when the first Pesach took place in the month of Nissan. The redemption on Pesach was the result of an awakening from above, "I am G-d – I am He, nobody else took part" [Haggada of Pesach]. The time of the redemption in the following month, Iyar, was set by the request of the nation, which thus achieved its freedom by its own initiative. Based on the "Torah festival" in the month of Iyar, we also have "rabbinical festivals" which mark days in modern times during which we gained our freedom: Yom Haatzmanut (Independence Day) and Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day).

Here again a person might claim: "Because of circumstances, I cannot join in the efforts to achieve freedom... 'A man who is impure or is far away' [Numbers 9:13] ..." In terms of the nationalistic outlook, impurity and a distance can be viewed symbolically. National impurity is a matter of many sins. When we are full of sin we cannot achieve independence. Another possibility is that we are in a pure state but far away, in nationalistic terms – in exile, in a place which is geographically far from our land. A nation which cannot obtain its independence in such cases can excuse itself and cannot be blamed for the consequences.

The Torah warns us not to give in to ideological temptation. "But the man who is pure" – one who is privileged to be pure, observing the mitzvot and being filled with the fear of heaven – "and is not far away" – who lives in the Land of Israel – "and refrains from making the Pesach" – but still does not desire independence... has thus cut himself off from the historical fate of the nation. A very harsh punishment is described in the verse: "That soul will be cut off from its nation." [Numbers 9:13]. However, even in such a situation of an ideological distance from the desire for independence, it is possible to repent, as is written in the Zohar (Behaalotecha) – the Mashiach will cause the righteous people to repent too.