As we finish storing away our Pesach dishes, coming up in less than three weeks time is an unusual date – the 15th of Iyar. That’s when we encounter “Pesach Sheni” – the second Passover. Here’s some background to help understand the mitzvah: Several men, due to their Tumah – their ritual impurity – were unable to fulfill the mitzvah of the Korban Pesach:
ז) וַיֹּאמְרוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים הָהֵמָּה אֵלָיו אֲנַחְנוּ טְמֵאִים לְנֶפֶשׁ אָדָם לָמָּה נִגָּרַע לְבִלְתִּי הַקְרִב אֶת קָרְבַּן ה’ בְּמֹעֲדוֹ בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל: (ח) וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם מֹשֶׁה עִמְדוּ וְאֶשְׁמְעָה מַה יְצַוֶּה ה’ לָכֶם
7. 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?
8. Moses said to them, “Wait, and I will hear what the Lord instructs concerning you.”
Hashem’s response is sympathetic: Anyone unable to keep the mitzvah of the Korban Pesach, because he was either impure or on a distant journey, would have another chance exactly one month later. He is to eat the Passover sacrifice in the same manner as the Pesach a month earlier.
The passage is rather unbelievable: Can you imagine the following situation: You’re in some faraway place during the festival of Sukkot on a business trip, and there is no way you will be able to sit in a Sukkah, even the first night. Upon your return home, one month later, your children find you out in the yard having dinner in the Sukkah, which they had yet to dismantle. Or suppose this: You are not feeling particularly well one Tisha Ba’av; so a month later, you remove your shoes and sit on the ground and fast for twenty four hours in commemoration of the Temple’s destruction.
Normally, if an unforeseen circumstance prevents us from doing a given mitzvah, we apply the principle of Oness, Rachmanah Patrei. I am exempt when I simply cannot do the mitzvah.
What is this idea of doing the mitzvah a month later? A make-up mitzvah?
Maybe even more perplexing – and theologically concerning – is that the story seems to imply that if we noodge Hashem enough – then He will oblige by creating brand new Torah Mitzvot! This seems to fly in the face of the famous quote from the Zohar – which teaches that G-d looked into the Torah and created the world. The Torah has existed forever – and it’s the blueprint for creation!!
So our questions:
Why the need or ability to perform a make-up mitzvah – if the time has passed and we are exempt – and the mitzvah no longer applies?
How could it be that Torah mitzvot are created in response to public pressure?
Perhaps the answer lies in a Rashi – Says Rashi:
וראויה היתה פרשה זו להאמר ע”י משה כשאר כל התורה כולה, אלא שזכו אלו שתאמר על ידיהן, שמגלגלין זכות ע”י זכאי
It was fitting that this parsha be initiated by Moshe – as is the rest of the Torah, but these men merited having the mitzvah introduced through their initiative – because merits are brought out through people who are meritorious.
Sefer Bamidbar is also the backdrop for another story – of the daughters of Tzelafchad, who having no brothers, insist that they should inherit their father’s portion in Eretz Yisrael.
There, the Sifri says
ראויה היתה פרשת נחלות שתאמר על ידי משה אלא שזכו בנות צלפחד שנאמרה על ידיהן לכך מגלגלים זכות על ידי זכאי
The parsha dealing with the inheritances of the land should have been introduced by Moshe – but the daughters of Tzelafchad merited having the parsha said in their name – because merits are brought out through people who are meritorious.
In other words, the issue of Pesach Sheni – and of women who have no brothers inheriting their father’s portion in Eretz Yisrael – these two mitzvot, like all others – were destined to be given to the Jewish people. The men of our parsha and the daughters of Tzelafchad were very meritorious people – and as a result received the honor of being the ones who officially “asked the question” – that so to speak – led to the establishment of the mitzvah. These mitzvot were going to be given anyway – but the people’s respective merits resulted in them being “credited” with the mitzvah…
But what was this merit – in the case of our parsha – that made them the authors of Pesach Sheni? What was the merit of the daughters of Tzelafchad that prompted them to trigger the application of the laws of property inheritance?
I think the answer lies in the inherent value that these people placed in the mitzvah about which they were inquiring: the love of the Passover sacrifice, its rich symbolism of Jewish national pride, of our fidelity to our G-d, on the eve of our redemption from slavery. The love of the mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael, dwelling in the land of Israel and the importance of Israel to us as families and as a nation. In other words, the dedication to the mitzvah itself is the merit that paved the way for these two groups to have their mitzvoth credited to them. That’s what Rashi means by מגלגלים זכות על ידי זכאי
This may be the key to understanding another puzzling statement that appears in the Talmud: מצוות בטילות לעתיד לבוא” Literally: In the future – Messianic times – Mitzvot will be null and void.
Now this statement, is on the surface – very troubling. Maimonedes’ 13 principles of faith declare:
8. I believe with perfect faith that the entire Torah that we now have is that which was given to Moses.
9. The Torah will never be abrogated, nothing will be added to it or subtracted from it; God will never give another Law.
But If mitzvot will be null and void — What of our eternal Torah?
The answer, Rav Abraham Isaac Kook, explains, lies in the term “Mitzvah”. Mitzvah literally means commandment.
קודם שיבוא העולם החדש, שיהיה לו מגע באותו האור העליון, שיהיה שייך לומר בו פנים של מצוות בטילות לעתיד לבוא, יתגלו המצוות בהוד סגולתם, בכל הודם ונעמם הפנימי, בתפארת החיים הממשיים שבהם, וכל העולם כולו ישתומם למראה גדלם ויפעת כבודם, וכל ישראל יתדבקו באהבתם בכל לב בעצמיות הטבע האלוהי שבהם
Before the new era dawns – the era which will have contact with that lofty light – the mitzvot will reveal themselves in all of their splendour and pleasantness – the entire world will be overwhelmed by their depth – and the whole of the Jewish people will cleave, with all of their hearts – to the mitzvoth out of love for the natural godliness inherent to them.
For Rav Kook, we will still be keeping Kosher, we will still have to clean for Pesach and so forth. What will happen though, no longer will we be told to live Jewish lives. Each one of us will feel an internal love for – and drive – to keep the Torah. That’s what will change. It’s only the mitzvah – the external imperative of mitzvot that will fall away. This, I think, is the message of both Pesach Sheni and Bnot Tzlafchad. Their feelings of connectedness to specific mitzvot was the merit that awarded them the right to “write their own parshas”.