by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
This issue is dedicated to the memory of Abba Tzvi ben Alta Leah Yehudis
"G-d spoke to Moshe in the Sinai desert, in the second year of the Exodus
from Egypt, in the first month, saying, let the children of Israel make the
Pesach sacrifice at its proper time... And there were men who were impure,
due to contact with a dead man, and they could not make the Pesach
[Passover] sacrifice on that day, and they came before Moses and Aharon on
that day. They said to him, we are impure due to contact with a dead man;
why are we worse, that we should not bring a sacrifice before G-d in its
time, amongst the children of Israel?" [Bamidbar 9:1-7]
My wife's grandfather, Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Hertzberg z"l, notes that the
Talmud in Tractate Sukkah determines that these individuals were involved in
the burial of a "Mes Mitzvah" - a dead body with no one else to bury it.
Doing the final act of kindness for such an individual takes precedence even
over the Pesach sacrifice, so they took this task upon themselves even
though it would render them impure and unable to fulfill the later Mitzvah.
As a result, we learn the laws of "Second Pesach" - a "second chance" to
offer the Pesach sacrifice one month later - in response to these men.
Although we should have learned these laws directly through Moshe, like
every other case, the merits of these individuals caused the laws of "Second
Pesach" to be taught for all generations in conjunction with their story.
What was their great merit? Rav Hertzberg points to their emphasis on doing
today's obligations, and not worrying unduly about the impact on tomorrow.
They certainly knew that they would be impure on the eve of Pesach, and thus
unable to offer the sacrifice, but they also knew that their immediate
obligation was to help the deceased reach his or her final rest. Many
people are offered the opportunity to, for example, spend a summer or a year
in Israel, learning more about Judaism and preparing themselves for Jewish
lives - and instead put off this opportunity because of fear of graduating
late, missing a placement or losing a job. So it can be truly important to
worry first about today's obligations and today's needs.
There is another aspect of the story, which I think is just as relevant: the
self-sacrifice that was involved. Those people who performed the burial
knew that they would miss the first-ever sacrifice commemorating the Pesach,
which had taken place just the year before. And yet they did the burial - a
kindness for an individual who would show no gratitude, and who had no known
relatives who would offer thanks on his behalf. This level of generosity,
of interest in others even at their own expense, was one of the merits that
caused their story to be recorded for all eternity.
Text Copyright © 1995 Rabbi Yaakov Menken and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Director of Project Genesis.