Post-Sin Reality (Behaalotcha)
What ever disunites man from God, also disunites man from man. -Edmund Burke
The Torah narrative, suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly, introduces a “new” holiday, really a “conditional” holiday which was not mentioned in the previous lists of holidays. It is the holiday of Pesach Sheni. The holiday seems to be reactionary and not part of the originally planned cycle of holidays. A group of people approaches Moses. They were ritually impure and were unhappy that their ritual impurity would prevent them from participating in the Pesach celebrations.
Moses tells the petitioners to wait so that he can get instructions regarding their interesting complaint. God doesn’t disappoint and immediately relays to Moses that while the petitioners can’t celebrate Pesach with the rest of the nation that is ritually pure, they will have a second chance exactly a month later, to bring the Pesach sacrifice and to have Matza, assuming they are ritually pure by then.
The Meshech Chochma on Numbers 9:10 goes into a fascinating discussion as to why the Torah didn’t preempt the petitioners’ request and present the Pesach Sheni option a priori. He explains that after the revelation of God to the entire Jewish people at Mount Sinai, the people were at such a high spiritual level, that they could connect to God with a much greater facility than anything we could imagine today.
However, after the sin of the golden calf, all of Israel lost that ability. They would require a physical Tabernacle to reproduce that ability, that divine focal point to allow them to commune with God. Not only that, but pre-sin, any individual Jew was at such an elevated level, that they would likewise be immune to the punishment of Karet (“cutting off,” whichever way that’s interpreted). The entirety of the Jewish people is never subject to that punishment. An individual Jew, pre-sin, had a similar status, ability, and spiritual protection as the entire nation. Pre-sin, we could more easily connect with God, without needing some communal, physical, focal construct.
Similarly, pre-sin, it would have been permissible for a Jew to participate in the Pesach sacrifice, even if they were ritually impure. However, post-sin, that would no longer be possible. In a post-sin reality, a ritually impure Jew would not be able to partake of the Pesach sacrifice. Only post-sin is there a need for God to add legislation that provides a second chance, a new holiday, for those who because of either their physical distance or their ritually impure condition, can’t join the rest of the nation in bringing the Pesach sacrifice.
May we one day reach our previous spiritual levels as well as protection on an individual and communal level.
To the memory of Rabbi Norman Lamm z”tl, former President and Chancellor of Yeshiva University. He inspired me and many others.