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Parshas Behaaloscha

Pesach Sheni - Do Not PASS OVER The Korban Pesach
by Rabbi Yosef Levinson

Usually the Torah records events in chronological order. However there are exceptions. The command to bring the Korban Pesach in the midbar, the wilderness, is such an example. This mitzva was given in Nissan, but the Book of Bamidbar presents it after the census of Bnei Yisrael which took place in Iyar (i.e., the following month). Rashi explains that the census is related first because the parsha (Torah portion/episode) of the Korban Pesach reflects negatively on Bnei Yisrael. They were in the midbar for forty years, yet only sacrificed the Korban Pesach this one time. The Torah places this parsha after the later event to minimise their shame.

The implication here is that Bnei Yisrael could have offered the Korban Pesach each year in the desert and because they chose not to, their reputation is tarnished. However, in Parshas Bo, the Torah states: "And it will be when you come into the land that Hashem will give you you shall observe this service (of offering the Korban Pesach)", (Shemos 12:25). Rashi comments that there was no obligation to bring the Korban Pesach until they entered Eretz Yisrael. So why is their failure to fulfil this mitzva regarded negatively? One might argue that it was their own fault because they listened to and accepted the disparaging report of the spies and as a consequence had to remain in the midbar for forty years. If this had not been the case, they would have begun fulfilling the mitzva of Korban Pesach much earlier. (Tosafos, Kiddushin 37).

However, the same line of reasoning applies equally to other mitzvos such as teruma, maaser (tithes given to Kohanim and Leviim), and shemitta (the sabbatical year) that were only kept after they entered and conquered the land of Eretz Yisrael (fourteen years later). Yet we do not find that the honour of the Bnei Yisrael was diminished because they did not fulfil these mitzvos in the desert. Why is the Korban Pesach singled out?

Indeed, why are we given a second chance to fulfil this mitzva as we see in the parsha of Pesach Sheni, the second Pesach offering but not granted this option for other mitzvos? The Torah relates that there were men who came before Moshe on Erev Pesach stating that they were tamei. They knew that this status disqualified them from offering the Korban Pesach, yet they considered it unfair and unjust that they were not allowed to do so. Even though they had a strong desire to do the mitzva, how could they presume that they had any right to question the laws concerning this commandment?

The Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzva 5) writes that we bring the Pesach offering to recall the wondrous miracles that Hashem performed in redeeming us from Egyptian servitude. The plagues inflicted on the Egyptians together with the other miracles are irrefutable proof that G-d is the Creator of the world and that He continues to control all that happens (ibid, Mitzva 380).

Additionally, through those miracles, Hashem acquired us as His servants. We enjoy hashgacha pratis, Divine Providence and guidance in our lives and we have the privilege of serving the Ribbono Shel Olam, Master of the Universe, through Torah and mitzvos. As the Torah states: "For they (Bnei Yisrael) are My servants, whom I have taken out of the land of Egypt."(Vayikra 25:42, see there with Malbim). Rav Avigdor Miller zt'l observes that the Korban Pesach marks the very first time that man was permitted to partake of a sacrifice. Until then, the whole animal was always burnt on a mizbeach (altar). He explains that the Pesach offering demonstrates that the physical body of a Jew who is dedicated to Hashem's service, is as sacred as a mizbeach, and it is therefore fitting for such a Jew to consume a korban.

This is the uniqueness of the Pesach offering. We eat the meat of the Korban Pesach to proclaim and celebrate that we are the holy servants of the Ribbono Shel Olam. There were many mitzvos, which the Bnei Yisrael were unable to fulfil in the wilderness. Since they were not commanded to observe them there, they were not held accountable for not performing them. However when Hashem Himself exempts us from a mitzva which proclaims that we are His servants, He is demonstrating His dissatisfaction with our service. This is similar to what we are taught concerning rain on Succos. If we are compelled by rainy weather to leave the succa, it is comparable to a servant who offers a drink to his master and instead of taking a drink, the master pours the jug in the servant's face, saying: "I don't want your service" (Succa 28a-29b). So too, in this instance, Hashem was conveying His unhappiness, and that is a discredit to the honour of Bnei Yisrael.

Even so, Hashem gives us a second chance to bring the Korban Pesach. Hakadosh Baruch Hu genuinely desires our service, and if one was unworthy on Pesach, he is granted another opportunity to declare his allegiance to Hashem. Those who were unable to bring the Korban Pesach because of tuma, explained that they had entered this state as the result of performing a mitzva. They were either the bearers of Yosef's coffin, or Mishael and Eltzafon, who were commanded to remove Nadav and Avihu from the Mishkan (Sanctuary), or they had assisted with a meis mitzva, a deceased individual who had no one to look after his remains (Succa, 25). They argued "How can we be considered unworthy of being Hashem's servants when our 'unworthiness' has come about through having fulfilled one of His mitzvos ?"(See Seforno). To this Hashem responded to the contrary that because of their strong will to serve Him, He would grant them the special honour of being the vehicle through which the mitzva of Pesach Sheni would be taught to Moshe.

May we emulate their longing to fulfil Hashem's mitzvos and may He rebuild the Beis Hamikdash so that we can offer the Korban Pesach and declare that we are His servants, speedily in our days.

To comment on this article e-mail the author at levinson@ocean.com.au


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