I hope you are well, recovering from dairy-filled Shavuot meals and enjoying the beautiful weather of summer. Here in Jerusalem, summer has certainly arrived and we managed to make it through only ONE day of dairy meals on Shavuot. As some of you may know, this week was also the graduation of my Masters program in Israel, the Pardes Educators Program. I’m still digesting that night — specifically, the conclusion of my two years of incredible study in Israel, my fast approaching flight back to North America, leaving the inspiring teachers and classmates I’ve learned with and wondering how to carry these experiences with me wherever I may go. Having said all of this, I am blessed to be here now and enjoy these last ten days with my mother and sister visiting with me. And I am looking forward to spending the rest of June and early July in the holiest city in the world!
This week’s parsha, Parshat Beha’alotcha discusses the final stages of the consecration of the Tabernacle with the menorah (candelabra), the celebration of Pesach Sheni (“Second” Passover) for those who could not celebrate with the community on the scheduled date of Passover, alongside a series of descriptions of the sojourns of the Israelites in the desert. Though there is much to be said about each of these vignettes in the parsha, I’d like to focus on two episodes: one less known and another more familiar to parsha readers such as yourself.
The first is the description of the service of the Levites in Tabernacle (and later the Temple). The Torah states that the Levites must perform their public ritual duties beginning at age 25 and concluding at age 50. (Numbers 8:23-26) Following this, the Torah begins to describe the details of Pesach Sheni – namely the observance of the holiday of Passover for those who were unable to partake in the regularly scheduled celebration a month prior. The Torah describes this event as follows:
|וַיְדַבֵּר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, לַעֲשֹׂת הַפָּסַח.
||4 And Moses spoke to the children of Israel, that they should keep the passover.
|ה וַיַּעֲשׂוּ אֶת-הַפֶּסַח בָּרִאשׁוֹן בְּאַרְבָּעָה עָשָׂר יוֹם לַחֹדֶשׁ, בֵּין הָעַרְבַּיִם–בְּמִדְבַּר סִינָי: כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה’, אֶת-מֹשֶׁה–כֵּן עָשׂוּ, בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.
||5 And they kept the passover in the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at dusk, in the wilderness of Sinai; according to all that the LORD commanded Moses, so did the children of Israel.
|ו וַיְהִי אֲנָשִׁים, אֲשֶׁר הָיוּ טְמֵאִים לְנֶפֶשׁ אָדָם, וְלֹא-יָכְלוּ לַעֲשֹׂת-הַפֶּסַח, בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא; וַיִּקְרְבוּ לִפְנֵי מֹשֶׁה, וְלִפְנֵי אַהֲרֹן–בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא.
||6 But there were certain men, who were unclean by the dead body of a man, so that they could not keep the passover on that day; and they came before Moses and before Aaron on that day.
|ז וַיֹּאמְרוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים הָהֵמָּה, אֵלָיו, אֲנַחְנוּ טְמֵאִים, לְנֶפֶשׁ אָדָם; לָמָּה נִגָּרַע, לְבִלְתִּי הַקְרִיב אֶת-קָרְבַּן ה’בְּמֹעֲדוֹ, בְּתוֹךְ, בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.
||7 And those men said to him: ‘We are unclean by the dead body of a man; wherefore are we to be kept back, so as not to bring the offering of the LORD in its appointed season among the children of Israel?’
|ח וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם, מֹשֶׁה: עִמְדוּ וְאֶשְׁמְעָה, מַה-יְצַוֶּה ה’ לָכֶם.
||8 And Moses said to them: ‘Stay here, so that I may hear what the LORD will command concerning you.’
|ט וַיְדַבֵּר ה’, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר.
||9 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying:
|י דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, לֵאמֹר: אִישׁ אִישׁ כִּי-יִהְיֶה-טָמֵא לָנֶפֶשׁ אוֹ בְדֶרֶךְ רְחֹקָה לָכֶם, אוֹ לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם, וְעָשָׂה פֶסַח, לַה’.
||10 ‘Speak to the children of Israel, saying: If any man of you or of your generations shall be unclean by reason of a dead body, or be in a journey afar off, yet he shall keep the passover for the LORD;
|יא בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשֵּׁנִי בְּאַרְבָּעָה עָשָׂר יוֹם, בֵּין הָעַרְבַּיִם–יַעֲשׂוּ אֹתוֹ: עַל-מַצּוֹת וּמְרֹרִים, יֹאכְלֻהוּ.
||11 in the second month on the fourteenth day at dusk they shall keep it; they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs;
|יב לֹא-יַשְׁאִירוּ מִמֶּנּוּ עַד-בֹּקֶר, וְעֶצֶם לֹא יִשְׁבְּרוּ-בוֹ; כְּכָל-חֻקַּת הַפֶּסַח, יַעֲשׂוּ אֹתוֹ.
||12 they shall leave none of it unto the morning, nor break a bone thereof; according to all the statute of the passover they shall keep it.
|יג וְהָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר-הוּא טָהוֹר וּבְדֶרֶךְ לֹא-הָיָה, וְחָדַל לַעֲשׂוֹת הַפֶּסַח–וְנִכְרְתָה הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַהִוא, מֵעַמֶּיהָ: כִּי קָרְבַּן יְהוָה, לֹא הִקְרִיב בְּמֹעֲדוֹ–חֶטְאוֹ יִשָּׂא, הָאִישׁ הַהוּא.
||13 But the man that is clean, and is not on a journey, and forbeareth to keep the passover, that soul shall be cut off from his people; because he brought not the offering of the LORD in its appointed season, that man shall bear his sin.
|יד וְכִי-יָגוּר אִתְּכֶם גֵּר, וְעָשָׂה פֶסַח לַה’–כְּחֻקַּת הַפֶּסַח וּכְמִשְׁפָּטוֹ, כֵּן יַעֲשֶׂה: חֻקָּה אַחַת יִהְיֶה לָכֶם, וְלַגֵּר וּלְאֶזְרַח הָאָרֶץ.
||14 And if a stranger shall sojourn among you, and will keep the passover unto the LORD: according to the statute of the passover, and according to the ordinance thereof, so shall he do; ye shall have one statute, both for the stranger, and for him that is born in the land.’ (Numbers 9:4-14)
From these verses, it would seem that God much prefers for the holiday of Passover to be observed in its season. And yet, when Moses asks God how to respond to those who were ritually impure at the time of Passover and therefore unable to participate in the celebration, especially the Passover sacrifice, God instructs these individuals to try and simulate the Passover experience a month later once they are no longer ritually impure.
Juxtaposed to the previous chapter in the parsha which discusses the designated years of service of the Levites, God’s decision regarding the ritually impure to have a second chance at Passover seems peculiar. Why is it that the Levites can only start to serve at a particular age and their service is capped at another age while a member of the Jewish People can celebrate Passover a month later?! Aren’t holidays fixed in the calendar? What is so problematic about a Levite wishes to serve before or beyond this cultic start or end date?
I think that the Torah is teaching us an important lesson in this juxtaposition. There are times in our lives when we are given opportunities to perform acts which suit our professional, personal and spiritual capabilities. We must embrace these opportunities for self-actualization. Like the Levites, we must ‘seize the day’ and do our holy work in this world. However, there are also times in our lives when circumstances do not work in our favour and/or we are restricted by personal or societal constraints. While our hearts may be in the right place, sometimes we cannot execute a task – not matter how noble and well intentioned it is. In these circumstances, we must sit tight until the tides change and the dust settles and we are in a position to get back on track and do good in the world.
I bless us all that God grant us the clarity to distinguish between opportune moments of spiritual growth and societal betterment and malapropos times for doing good for ourselves and others.
Inspired by the Levites, may we take advantage of these first opportunities to serve God, in whatever form that takes.
Following in the footsteps of those who first performed Pesach Sheni (Second Passover), may we find patience and faith when we cannot join in affirming the community’s values. And above all, may we courageously request and seek out second chances to do such sacred work.