Parshas BeHa’aloschah – Finding Individuality within the Klal

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Rabbi Moshe Eisemann's Shiurim
Rabbi Moshe Eisemann's Shiurim
Parshas BeHa’aloschah – Finding Individuality within the Klal

The presence of the mitzvah of Pesach Sheini in Parshas Beha’aloscha opens up a wonderful opportunity for us to revisit the parsha of the Korban Pesach. We last encountered it back in Parshas Acharei Mos-Kedoshim. There we were acquainted with the unbelievable words of the Chizkuni who helped us translate the following very difficult pasuk (Devarim 16:3) as follows:

לֹא־תֹאכַ֤ל עָלָיו֙ חָמֵ֔ץ שִׁבְעַ֥ת יָמִ֛ים תֹּֽאכַל־עָלָ֥יו מַצּ֖וֹת לֶ֣חֶם עֹ֑נִי…

Do not eat it with chametz; for seven days you shall eat matzos, bread of affliction, because of it…

The plain meaning of the word “alav” here is “with it”. Plainly we would have read the pasuk as two mitzvos: a negative admonition not to eat chametz together with the Pesach, as well as a positive commandment to eat matzos together with the Pesach for seven days. The obvious problem with this translation is that the Pesach can only be eaten on the first night of Pesach! How then can the matzah that we eat for the next seven days be eaten together with the Korban of the first night? The answer, says the Chizkuni, is that it is not, and it is not the pasuk’s intention to say that it is. What the pasuk is in fact telling me, is the reason for which I am to eat those matzos. Do you want to know why we eat matzos for the next seven days? It is because of the Korban Pesach. Back then we asked why it is that the matzos should be specifically traced to the Korban Pesach when they are most simply a direct result of Yetzias Mitzrayim?

What we discovered in the wake of this question was an astonishing revelation into the nature of our people, based upon the commonality of these two mitzvos. Matzos, as the Maharal explains them, come from a realm which is high above and far beyond that of time. Time is a function of Olam Hazeh, and matzos must be made in such a manner that time simply does not touch them, for if they do then the entire enterprise was wasted! With just a moment’s delay they turn to chametz, and the entire enterprise is plainly and simply wasted! Thus, matzos are antithetical to time, and really belong to a realm which is far above and beyond it.

The Korban Pesach as well shares this function. We saw then that among the functions of the Korban Pesach was to mark the doorposts of all the Jewish homes. By doing this we denied the destroying angel not only entry to our homes, but even any sort of existence therein at all! What was a vicious and monstrous entity laying waste to thousands of Egyptian lives out in the streets simply did not exist for the Yidden living beyond those bloodstained doorposts! Thus, here too we are exposed to the fact that we Yidden are people who live in a reality that is completely different from that of the world around us. What is hot, sticky and undrinkable blood in the cups of the Egyptians is in our cups sparklingly crisp and refreshing water! What is an infinitely dark, blinding, and constricting atmosphere for the Egyptians, is at the very same time a beautifully lit up airspace for us! While we inhabit the same planet as everyone else, the world in which we live is an entirely different one from that which houses the nations around us! This is the concept which vivifies the mitzvah of Korban Pesach, and it is in this vein that the Torah exhorts us to eat matzos for seven days because of the lesson which the Korban Pesach taught us!

An Institutionalized Substitution:

Let us now turn our attention to the Pesach Sheini. After coming to understand some of the fundamentals that this remarkable mitzvah teaches us, perhaps we will be able to suggest another answer to the question that the Chizkuni came to answer.

This remarkable parsha begins with a complaint brought by a group of people as follows (Bamidbar 9:6-7):

וַיְהִ֣י אֲנָשִׁ֗ים אֲשֶׁ֨ר הָי֤וּ טְמֵאִים֙ לְנֶ֣פֶשׁ אָדָ֔ם וְלֹא־יָכְל֥וּ לַעֲשֹׂת־הַפֶּ֖סַח בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֑וּא וַֽיִּקְרְב֞וּ לִפְנֵ֥י מֹשֶׁ֛ה וְלִפְנֵ֥י אַהֲרֹ֖ן בַּיּ֥וֹם הַהֽוּא: וַ֠יֹּאמְרוּ הָאֲנָשִׁ֤ים הָהֵ֙מָּה֙ אֵלָ֔יו אֲנַ֥חְנוּ טְמֵאִ֖ים לְנֶ֣פֶשׁ אָדָ֑ם לָ֣מָּה נִגָּרַ֗ע לְבִלְתִּ֨י הַקְרִ֜יב אֶת־קָרְבַּ֤ן יְקֹוָק֙ בְּמֹ֣עֲד֔וֹ בְּת֖וֹךְ בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל:

And there were men who were made tamei by a deceased person who could not perform the Korban Pesach on that day; and they came close before Moshe and before Aharon on that day. And these men said to him “We became tamei to a deceased person[1]. Why should we be נגרע (we will return to this word soon) to be unable to bring close the korban of Hashem at its appointed time amongst the Bnei Yisroel.

The plain meaning of these pesukim should fill us with sympathy for the feeling that these people had of being robbed! Plainly and simply, due to circumstances beyond their control which obligated them to make themselves tamei they would be forced to miss out on this korban which the entire rest of Klal Yisroel would be sacrificing! Everyone else gets to do a mitzvah which we cannot? Cannot something be done to allow us to receive what the entire rest of the nation is getting?

This is the plain understanding of the pesukim until we see the words of the Ibn Ezra (Bamidbar 9:7). Incredibly, all that it takes are two well placed words to change our entire worldview of what is going on:

למה נגרע – מבנין נפעל

Why should we be made lacking? – in the reflexive tense.

The Korban Pesach is not simply a nice mitzvah, a beautiful gift which Hashem has sent us. While the rest of the nation would be experiencing a spectacular spiritual elevation, these people would be forced to sit this one out! They alone would have to forego the massive positive effect which doing this mitzvah has upon a person and they simply could not handle it. “Why should we be diminished!?”

What was their concern? In what way would they be diminished? Let us hear them out fully:

לָ֣מָּה נִגָּרַ֗ע לְבִלְתִּ֨י הַקְרִ֜יב אֶת־קָרְבַּ֤ן יְקֹוָק֙ בְּמֹ֣עֲד֔וֹ בְּת֖וֹךְ בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל:

“Why should we be diminished, not to bring close the korban of Hashem at its appointed time amongst the Bnei Yisroel?!”

Klal Yisroel is doing something together. The entire Tzibur comes to the Mishkan or the Beis Hamikdash, each with their own sheep or goat; then, in three consecutive chaburos or groups they slaughter the animals, throw their blood against the Mizbeach and then take them to be skinned and prepared for the Seder night. This mitzvah came to us with the words (Shemos 12:21):

משכו וקחו לכם צאן למשפחתיכם ושחטו הפסח

“Draw away and take for yourselves a sheep for your families and slaughter the Pesach.”

This is not the only time that the Pesach is spoken about in plural terms. There are multiple pesukim which refer to the Korban Pesach in the plural as well (Shemos 12:47, Bamidbar 9:2, 9:11,9:12):

כָּל־עֲדַ֥ת יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל יַעֲשׂ֥וּ אֹתֽוֹ: וְיַעֲשׂ֧וּ בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל אֶת־הַפָּ֖סַח בְּמוֹעֲדֽוֹ: בַּחֹ֨דֶשׁ הַשֵּׁנִ֜י בְּאַרְבָּעָ֨ה עָשָׂ֥ר י֛וֹם בֵּ֥ין הָעַרְבַּ֖יִם יַעֲשׂ֣וּ אֹת֑וֹ עַל־מַצּ֥וֹת וּמְרֹרִ֖ים יֹאכְלֻֽהוּ: לֹֽא־יַשְׁאִ֤ירוּ מִמֶּ֙נּוּ֙ עַד־בֹּ֔קֶר וְעֶ֖צֶם לֹ֣א יִשְׁבְּרוּ־ב֑וֹ כְּכָל־חֻקַּ֥ת הַפֶּ֖סַח יַעֲשׂ֥וּ אֹתֽוֹ:

All of the assembly of Yisroel shall perform (pl.) it; And the Bnei Yisroel shall perform (pl.) the Pesach at its appointed time; On the second month on the fourteenth day in the afternoon they shall perform (pl.) it [the Pesach], on matzos and bitter herbs they shall eat it; Do not leave of it over until morning and do not break any of its bones, according to all the laws of the Pesach they shall perform (pl.) it.

These pesukim have important halachic ramifications. Let us take a look at the Rambam (Hilchos Korban Pesach 2:2):

יחיד ששחט את הפסח לעצמו כשר, והוא שיהיה ראוי לאכול את כולו, ומשתדלין שלא ישחט לכתחלה על יחיד שנאמר יעשו אותו.

If an individual slaughters the Pesach for himself it is kosher, provided that he is capable of eating the entire korban by himself, but we try not to slaughter for an individual l’chatchila, as it says they shall perform it.

Clearly the concept of the rabim is extremely energetic when it comes to this mitzvah, and this can be seen in a Pesach Sheini-dige application as well. Let us listen in to the Rambam’s initial description of the Pesach Sheini:

מי שהיה טמא בשעת שחיטת הפסח שאין שוחטין עליו, או שהיה בדרך רחוקה, או נאנס באונס אחר, או ששגג ולא הקריב בראשון, הרי זה מביא פסח בארבעה עשר לחדש השני בין הערבים, ושחיטת פסח זה מצות עשה בפני עצמו ודוחה את השבת שאין השני תשלומין לראשון אלא רגל בפני עצמו לפיכך חייבין עליו כרת.

Someone who was tamei at the time of the slaughtering of the Pesach, in such a manner we do not slaughter the Pesach for him, or if someone was on a far off journey, or some other difficulty ensued, or he mistakenly did not offer up his korban on the first Pesach; such a person brings the Pesach on the fourteenth of the second month in the afternoon. Slaughtering this Pesach is a separate positive commandment of its own, one which takes precedence to the Shabbos, because the second Pesach is not a make-up for the first one rather it is instead a holiday of its own right and therefore one incurs the punishment of kareis for [missing] it.

This that the Pesach Sheini must be considered its own festival hammers yet another nail into the structure of our thesis. Entwined as it is with the concept of the rabim, it is impossible to look at the Pesach Sheini as merely a substitute for the first Pesach. Substitute offerings by definition pertain only to the individual who requires the substitution! The communal nature of the korban Pesach cannot be simply substituted in such a way. It demands that someone who missed the first Korban Pesach be granted an entirely new Yom Tov which he can celebrate communally with others who require a Korban Pesach as well!

Understanding the significance of the Tzibur grants us a significant insight into the very need for such an institutionalized substitution. The fact that such a Yom Tov was created is really a tremendous chiddush in its own right. Most of the Yamim Tovim come along with their own mitzvos, and it could happen that a person might be unable to procure for himself a lulav and esrog come Succos time, or a shofar on Rosh Hashanah. Nowhere is there any indication that it might be a good idea to have a set time to make up the mitzvos that one missed! There simply is no such thing! The time for lulav and esrog is on Succos, the time for shofar is on Rosh Hashana! Nowhere else does the Torah give someone a second chance to perform a timebound mitzvah! What is it that makes the Korban Pesach so different?

In the light of our discussion, the answer to this question is clear. The Korban Pesach is far more than just another Yom Tov mitzvah! It is a means through which we incorporate ourselves into the larger Tzibur of Klal Yisroel. Only as a part of the greater Tzibur of Klal Yisroel does the individual Yid has any sort of vitality whatsoever[2], and thus it is crucially important that everyone be included! This was precisely the plaint of those who were impure and unable to bring the korban. “How is it possible that we will be excluded?! Why should we be diminished, unable to unify ourselves together with the greater Tzibur of Klal Yisroel? How can we bear the pain of being disconnected from the Tzibur, untethered as it were, from the exalted existence of the Jewish people as a whole?!” This unbearable, unmitigated pain first bulged the neshamos of these precious Yidden at their seams, and then burst forth from them in a raw scream of “למה נגרע!!!!!!!!!?????????????” From Heaven above Hashem listened in and said “Now is the time to hand down the mitzvah of Pesach Sheini. These Yidden who feel the pain of dissociation so keenly are the exact people by whose hand I wish to bring this mitzvah into the world!”[3]

The making of a Rasha:

It is with this understanding that I think I now finally understand our dialogue with the Ben Rasha. I have always been bothered by the almost brutal treatment which we mete out to him. Elsewhere we have explained that his fault lies in the manner of his question which is far less of a question and much more of a declaration. We need only think of the way that the pasuk phrases it (Shemos 12:26):

וְהָיָ֕ה כִּֽי־יֹאמְר֥וּ אֲלֵיכֶ֖ם בְּנֵיכֶ֑ם מָ֛ה הָעֲבֹדָ֥ה הַזֹּ֖את לָכֶֽם:

And it shall be when your children say to you “What is this service which is to you?”

It would seem from the phrasing of the pasuk that this child is not plagued with burdensome questions. He is rather presenting his answers to us, in his benighted attempt to free himself from what his nearsighted view sees only as a constraining burden, bonds which would fetter his ventures into perceived freedom! Such an offensive requires us to go on the counteroffensive. We must emphatically and decisively state that this service is the only route to true freedom! The illusions which he is so fatally attracted to are nothing more than illusions! It was for this service that Hashem took me out of Mitzrayim, me and only me! Those who followed the path that he so longs for did not make out, and had he been there he would have been no different!

That was then. Now we can explain our behavior very differently. Let us recall how the Ba’al Haggadah defined his question for us:

רשע מה הוא אומר: מה העבודה הזאת לכם, לכם ולא לו, ולפי שהוציא את עצמו מן הכלל כפר בעיקר, אף אתה קהה את שניו ואמור לו בעבור זה עשה ה’ לי בצאתי ממצרים, לי ולא לו, ואילו היה שם לא היה נגאל.

What does the wicked son say? “What is this service to you”, to you and not to him, and since he has taken himself out of the communality [of the Jewish people] he has denied that which is fundamental. You too must blunt his teeth and say to him “It was for this [that I may perform his service and mitzvos] that Hashem did for me when I left from Mitzrayim”. For me and not for him, and had he been there he would not have been redeemed.

Seeing the desperation which overtook those people who could not bring the Korban Pesach due to their impurity should give us feeling for the immense importance which this offering holds! It is beyond crucial that we join in with the Tzibur in this service, and it is precisely this point which the wicked son disputes! He feels no need to join in with the Tzibur! His feeling is that he is doing quite fine as he is. “What need is there for me to join in with something bigger than myself when I already consider myself to be the largest, most important entity that exists! Worse yet, by submitting myself to the Tzibur I place in danger all of these vaunted individual strengths that I have!” Plainly put, this child has no concept of the feeling of למה נגרע, no understanding whatsoever of the fact that being an individual alone is the greatest disadvantage possible! And what about the individual strengths that I feel I am jeopardizing? We answer him in words that are short and to the point:

בעבור זה עשה ה’ לי בצאתי ממצרים.

It was for the sake of this [that I perform His service] that Hashem did for me when I left from Egypt.

Where the Rasha phrased his question in the plural I respond in the singular. It was I who left Egypt, I, the singular me, the individual with all of his individual strengths left Egypt and it is that same individual who is called upon to join into the Tzibur as an individual! This Tzibur which we comprise is a most wondrous unit! Yes it is a communality, but in no way does this communality rob its constituents of their individuality! Each and every one of us maintains our individuality concurrently with our communality! The Rasha’s fear is completely groundless! Far from robbing him of his individuality, the Tzibur enhances it by giving purpose and direction to each and every one of his talents! This is our answer back to the Rasha, and it is with this knowledge held firmly in the forefront of our minds that we celebrate for seven days because of the Korban Pesach, because on these seven days we celebrate our entry into the nationhood which precipitates just such a communality.

  1. It is difficult to translate this pasuk. Seemingly the tumah of a deceased person is transmitted by the soul-less body, yet the pasuk seems to be saying that they were made tamei by the nefesh of the deceased person.
  2. It would seem appropriate here to reference the words of the Rambam in Hilchos Teshuva (3:11):

    הפורש מדרכי צבור ואף על פי שלא עבר עבירות אלא נבדל מעדת ישראל ואינו עושה מצות בכללן ולא נכנס בצרתן ולא מתענה בתעניתן אלא הולך בדרכו כאחד מגויי הארץ וכאילו אינו מהן אין לו חלק לעולם הבא.

    One who separates from the ways of the Tzibur, even if he has not committed any sins, but has separated himself from the congregation of Yisroel and does not do mitzvos together with them, nor does he include himself in their pain or fast during their fastdays; instead he goes his own way like one of the nations of the land, as though he was not a part of them [Yisroel], such a person has no share in the World to Come.

  3. To appreciate the depth to which their plight pained them, we need only see the arguments that they made. [Generally speaking we hear shtiklach Torah of this complexity from people who really, really want to do something. A good case in point might be the boy in high school who is trying to make his case to the Menahel that he should be allowed to go home for an unscheduled off Shabbos, or someone who is trying to come up with a kula to allow himself to go to this or that place, or do this or that thing which is better advised for anyone and everyone to avoid.]

    למה נגרע, אמר להם אין קדשים קרבים בטומאה אמרו לו אם לאו יזרק הדם על הטמאים והבשר יאכל לטהורים והדין נותן ומה חטאת שהיא קדשי קדשים דמה נזרק על הטמאים ובשרה נאכל לטהורים הפסח שהוא קדשים קלים דין הוא שיזרק הדם על הטמאים והבשר יאכל לטהורים אמר להם אין קדשים קרבים בטומאה אמרו לו אם קדשים שיש להם אחריות יהו קרבים קדשים שאין להם אחריות לא יהו קרבים אמר להם לא שמעתי.

    [They argued] “Why should we be diminished?” [Moshe] said back to them “Kodshim are not brought while one is in a state of tumah!” They responded back “If we cannot bring the korban itself, at least let the blood be thrown for those who are tamei, and let those who are tahor eat it! This is something which can be justified with a kal v’chomer! If the chatas which is kodshei kodshim can have its blood thrown against the Mizbeach for those who are still tamei and its meat is eaten by those who are tahor [as we find by that one who is tamei can send his korban with a shaliach (see Eimek HaNetziv], then for sure the Pesach which is only kodshim kalim can be treated as such!” [Moshe] said [repeating himself] to them “Kodshim are not brought while one is in a state of tumah! [i.e. there is no such thing as what you are saying. The chatas is always eaten by others who are not the owners and therefore are not a proof to the korban Pesach which is only ever eaten by the owners! You are trying to invent something from whole cloth!] They said, that might be true for kodshim which have acharayus, [i.e. can be brought at any time and can be pushed off until the one bringing the offering is tahor], but those which have no acharayus should they not be brought for those who are tamei as well!?”