Parashat Beha’alos’cha:  No Jew Has Ever Broken From Judaism

Torah Observations
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Parashat Beha’alos’cha contains three positive commandments and two prohibitions.

“The Lord spoke to Moses in the Sinai Desert, in the second year of their exodus from the land of Egypt, in the first month, saying: The children of Israel shall make the Passover sacrifice in its appointed time.  On the afternoon of the fourteenth of this month, you shall make it in its appointed time; in accordance with all its statutes and all its ordinances you shall make it… So they made the Passover sacrifice in the first month, on the afternoon of the fourteenth day of the month in the Sinai Desert; according to all that the Lord had commanded Moses, so did the children of Israel do.  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?’… 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 fourteenth day, in the afternoon, they shall make it; they shall eat it with unleavened cakes and bitter herbs.  They shall not leave over anything from it until the next morning, and they shall not break any of its bones. They shall make it in accordance with all the statutes connected with the Passover sacrifice.”

These verses present four commandments:

  1. Anyone prevented from bringing the Pesach sacrifice to the Temple on the fourteenth of Nissan because he was impure, or at a great distance from Jerusalem, would be allowed to bring his sacrifice on the fourteenth of the following month, Iyar.

The other three commandments involve the manner in which the Passover sacrifice should be consumed:

  1. It must be eaten at night, together with matzah and bitter herbs;
  2. One may not leave over any of the meat till the next day; and
  3. One may not break any of the bones in it.

The fifth commandment in parshat Beha’alos’cha instructs the Kohanim to blow trumpets on special occasions (Bamidbar 10:1-10).  We will not dwell on this precept, but only note that today, for various reasons, we do not fulfill any of these five commandments.

Why is the 14th of Iyar appointed as the second term of the Passover sacrifice? Since in a leap year Pesach is, as it were, postponed by a month, so, too, is Pesach Sheini, Second Passover, postponed by one month.

The words of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson (1880-1950, also known as the Rebbe Rayatz), are very interesting: “We must not lose hope. It cannot be said about a single Jew that he has already broken away from Judaism, that everything is lost.  The proof of this is the example of the Passover sacrifice: A person has become unclean, or he is on a long journey.  He has wandered far away, and so has been away for several generations, and yet, he will begin to bring the Passover sacrifice next month.”

We see this happening today. Families whose three previous generations were atheists are returning to their Jewish heritage. This process is going on everywhere: in Russia, America, and Israel. For it is predicted in the Torah: “And it will be like this: when all these words—the blessing and curse that I have presented before you—will come true for you, and you will take it to your heart among all the nations, where the Lord has removed you, your G-d, and you will return to the Lord, your G-d, and you will obey His voice in everything that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul ... ” (Devarim 30:1-2).

Another point is noted by the great leader of post-War Israeli Torah Jewry, Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin (1881-1966):  Had we lived at that time of the Holy Temple and for one reason or the other, we were exempted from the commandment of offering the Passover sacrifice, perhaps we would be relieved, or even delighted.  There would be no need to buy a lamb, go all the way to Jerusalem and slaughter an animal, and so on.

But this was not the case with the people who approached Moshe in those ancient times.  We read: “And they came to Moshe and Aharon on that very day…”  One opinion states that they were the ones who carried the coffin of Joseph in the wilderness and therefore could not now bring the Passover sacrifice.  They were concerned: “How can it be that we are not able to fulfill one of the commandments?”

“And those people said to him: ‘Why should we be deprived [of the right] to offer this sacrifice to the Lord at the appointed time for it among the children of Israel?’”

Rabbi Sorotzkin made an excellent comparison: Several merchants agreed to go to India, buy goods there, and bring them back to their country to sell them at great profit.  They sealed their agreement with a handshake.  But then, one of them broke a leg and could not make the trip.  His companions told him: Don’t worry, we forgive you for not keeping your word to come with us.”

The erstwhile partner in the business pact was not blamed for failing to perform as he had promised.  True, he wasn’t penalized for not keeping his word—but there was no way he could recover the considerable profits he had hoped to gain from the trip.

Our situation is similar. After all, we really don’t have to fulfill the commandment to offer the Passover sacrifice right now, and it is not considered a delinquency on our part.  But neither do we gain the spiritual elevation to be acquired by carrying out its commandments.  In the time of the exodus from Egypt, there were lofty individuals who felt remorse that they lacked the sanctification inherent in fulfilling G-d’s commandments.

Copyright© 2023 by The LaMaalot Foundation. Talks on the Torah, by Rabbi Yitzchak Zilber is catalogued at The Library of Congress. All rights reserved. Printed in China by Best Win Printing, Shenzhen, China.