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“These are the appointed festivals of Hashem, the holy convocations, which you shall designate in their appropriate time” (Vayikra 23:4).

In Hebrew, the passage, “which you shall designate,” reads – asher tikr’u osam. However, since the word “osam” is spelled without the letter vav, it is possible to read it as “atem” – “you.” The Sages therefore interpreted this verse as a dictate to the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Supreme Court, instructing its members to proclaim, each month, which is the first day of the new month, Rosh Chodesh, and, accordingly, decide when the holidays should occur (In ancient times, before the Jewish calendar was written, the Sanhedrin would proclaim Rosh Chodesh after interrogating eyewitnesses who claimed that they had seen the new moon). The form of the spelling of the word to read atem, however, indicates that it is you, the Sanhedrin, who have total jurisdiction in the matter and whatever you decide is binding. In other words, even if the Judges proclaimed Rosh Chodesh on the wrong day, their decision is valid. More than that; even if the change was intentional, not accidental, it is still legitimate. The famous dictum of the Gemara states: “Atem, afilu shogagin; atem afilu mazidin” – “You (decide), even if you were mistaken; you (decide), even if you were intentionally wrong.”

The Ma’ayanah Shel Torah brings a beautiful vort from the Koznitzer Maggid, ztvk”l. He comments that the Chazal interpreted the passage as “Atem, afilu shogagin, atem afilu mazidin” only because the real word “osam” was spelled in a way that could be read as “atem.” How much more so should we understand the passage “Banim atem laHashem Elokeichem” – “You are sons of Hashem your G-d” (Devarim 14:1), which actually does use the word “atem,” to mean, “Atem, afilu shogagin, atem afilu mazidin” - “You (are Hashem’s sons), even if you were mistaken; you (are His sons), even if you were intentionally wrong.”

In other words, a Jew should always remember one of the basic tenets of Judaism: “A Jew remains a Jew, even though he has sinned” (Sanhedrin 44a). This is meant to be a great source of encouragement. For, as we already discussed several times, there is a voice from within which sometimes says, “You despicable creature. How dare you approach the Almighty after what you’ve done? With your hands, how dare you put on Tefillin? With your mouth, how dare you pray before Him? With your eyes, how dare you look in the Torah? Hashem will probably spit in your face and tell you to get lost!” But, as we explained, that voice is not coming from the Yetzer Tov (the Good Inclination), but from the Yetzer Hara (the Evil Inclination) who is trying to discourage one from serving Hashem rather than encourage him to better his ways.

One must always know and believe that in spite of what he may have done wrong, whether by mistake or even intentionally, he still remains one of Hashem’s special children who was created to perform his specific service before Him, and no one but he can do his job. Sure he has to repent for his sins, and he should feel guilty and saddened by what he did, and surely never condone them; but, in the meantime, his misdeeds should never prevent him from doing what he can, right now. On the contrary, realizing that Hashem, his Father, still loves him and is disappointed with him, should encourage him to do even more of His mitzvahs, and to do them even better, in order to make up for his iniquities.

Today is Pesach Sheni, the second Passover. The Torah tells us (in Bemidbar 9) that when the Jews in the desert were commanded to bring the Pesach sacrifice, on the first anniversary of the exodus from Egypt, there were some who were spiritually impure and complained about being prohibited from partaking in this activity. Hashem instructed Moshe to tell them that they would be afforded another opportunity, one month later, to become pure and bring their sacrifice then. This remained the law for all future generations, at the time of the Tabernacle and the Holy Temple. One who missed the opportunity to partake in the first Pesach sacrifice, either because he was spiritually impure or happened to be far away from the holy site on the fourteenth of the month of Nissan, was able to bring a second Pesach one month later, on the fourteenth of the month of Iyar.

The significance of this wonderful mitzvah is that one who misses out on an opportunity to serve Hashem, either because his sins made him impure, or because he feels very distanced, at the moment, from Him and His Torah and mitzvahs, should never give up. Hashem affords these unfortunates “another chance” to become pure, to get close to Him again, and to make up for lost opportunities.

Aren’t we lucky to be Jewish? Let’s appreciate the prospects which lay waiting before us and take advantage of them. Then we’ll be very happy in this world and in the world-to-come.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel