This issue is dedicated to the memory of Abba Tzvi ben Alta Leah Yehudis a”h.
“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.