Wednesday, April 28, 2010

#68 - SECOND Chance at LIFE

In the second year of the Jews having left Egypt, in the month of Nissan, Moses was instructed by Hashem to tell the Jews to commemorate the first anniversary of the Exodus with the Pascal lamb as they had done right before the Exodus took place.

Following Moses' relating Hashem's instructions, there was a group of people who told Moses that they were not able to bring the Pascal lamb on time with the slaughter of it on the 14th of Nissan since they were impure due to contact with the dead; and hence, as it is forbidden for an impure person to bring sacrifices in the Temple or eat of their meat, they would not qualify in time to bring the Pascal sacrifice. Of course they knew that they would have no sin for not being able to participate along with the rest of the Jewish nation. However, they felt that they would be left out of performing this Mitzvah that most of the other Jews would be able to perform.

As Moses had no answer for them, he turned to Hashem, Who replied that indeed, these Jews who were presently contaminated with the dead would have a chance to offer the Pascal sacrifice - one month later with the slaughter of it on the 14th of Iyar. This would be the option in future years for those who were impure with whatever type of impurity from which they would not be able to get rid of in time or were too far from the Temple in the morning of the 14th of Nissan to arrive in time to bring the sacrifice.

The above is what makes up the section of the Torah in Numbers 9:1-14. But perhaps more than what is amazing that a holiday can be officially celebrated a month after the holiday has passed, is the fact that is seems that the only reason why there is such a concept as bringing up this make-up sacrifice that we call Pesach Sheni -
"Second Passover Sacrifice" is because of a small amount of Jews who felt that as a result of their impurity disqualifying them from being able to bring the Pascal sacrifice that they would be left out, that it was specifically because of them that Hashem added a whole section in the Torah, which encompasses four Mitzvot/Commandments of the 613 Mitzvot pertaining to this Pesach Sheni sacrifice.

Today is 14 Iyar, the anniversary of the date that the make-up Pascal sacrifice was slaughtered, and then eaten at night; the same way that the Pascal sacrifice in Nissan is brought - slaughter of the lamb on the day of the 14th, and eaten on the night of the 15th. While we have yet to bring the first sacrifice since the day that the Temple was destroyed nearly two thousand years ago; the Torah as an instruction guide, hence called Torah from the word Hora'ah/Instruction, has what to teach us from this whole concept of the Pesach Sheni.

As evident from here, you do not necessarily need to be a big Torah scholar or saint to have a positive, spiritual effect on others. Sometimes, it is precisely those who have some type of physical or spiritual disability who can make a difference precisely because of their disability. This is part of Hashem's overall plan of preparing something for everyone's benefit, and all of us have a chance in our own set of background and circumstances to make our unique, individual contribution.

Especially in these days when so many Jews have been brought back to the Jewish faith, it is often many of these Jews who are labeled as "Ba'alei Teshuva" - which basically means to some who have always been observant Jews that these are Jews who weren't always religious are now religious - who have made significant contributions to Judaism due to their professional careers and experience, and having been well colleged educated. While they may have had some exposure to some ideas that oppose Torah, they also have picked up concepts and ideas that relate to their profession that have helped Jews immensely, such as in psychology, health, marital issues, etc.

Anyways, why is it specifically Passover that there is this concept of "making it up"
as evident by the fact that the name of the sacrifice is called Pesach, just as the name of the holiday? Why don't any of the other Jewish holidays include this concept?

Passover marks the physical birth of the Jewish nation. What this means is that it was the first time since Jacob and his children and grandchildren came together to Egypt that the Jews were together as a nation which was a few million people. Now that the Jews were all together having left the womb of Egypt, they would be able to grow spiritually without the hindrance of physical and spritual slavery. It was the Pascal sacrifice that signified the birth of the Jewish nation.

One of the many Mitzvot that relate to the Exodus is Pidyon HaBen/the redemption of the firstborn by handing over five silver coins to a Cohen. This was to commemorate how Hashem saved the firstborn Jews from death when He smote dead the Egyptian firstborn. In any case, the Mitzva is performed only from the 31st day of the baby's life. Why? According to Jewish law, it is uncertain that the newborn baby will life, for after all, there are times, G-d forbid, that they may have complications that indicate that the baby may die. However, it is assumed that if the baby has lived for one month, that this baby has the status of a Ben Kayama/a being that is able to live.

Hence, why the make-up Passover sacrifice was performed only a month after the date of the anniversary of the Exodus, as the 14th & 15th of Iyar have no special significance otherwise, is that it represents the fact that the Jewish people have now shown that they could indeed exist as a nation after the challenges of Egyptian life - even before the Torah was given (though the first time that the Pesach Sheni sacrifice was brought was a year later). In fact, it was after a month that Hashem started raining down the manna that the Jews would subsequently eat until after the
1st day of Passover following their entry in Israel forty years later. As Rashi notes, the Matza that the Jews took with them from Egypt lasted until after the evening of the 15th of Iyar. From henceforth, Hashem arranged for them to continue their spiritual sustenance via the manna until they were ready to start eating from the produce of the Holy Land.

I should note that the very end of the Talmudic Tractate of Pesachim which is all about the holiday of Passover deals with the Berachot/blessings recited at the Pidyon HaBen ceremony. Perhaps the final message of this Talmudic tractate is that no matter how far we stray from Judaism, there is hope for us just like the concept of the Pesach Sheni, even though it is one month after the date of the real Passover, the same way that the Pidyon HaBen is performed one month after the baby is born. And as the baby is now termed a Ben Kayama - a being that is able to live, so too, we can always repent so long as Hashem grants us the breath of life, and we are able to use our mind to think.

Speaking of life, this is my 68th post, and Chayim/life is the Gematria of 68. For many, after a close call in their life - physically or spiritually (see the beginning of my last post) - they change over as a new leaf. Some may have messed up in life like marrying when not quite prepared in life to face the challenges in married life or didn't spend adequate time beforehand to see if one's mate would be good for oneself. Others may have been given a spiritual ride in the negative sense such as being enticed to be baptized or spending time at an ashram in India. While people in these circumstances may feel that now it is too late for them to have a second chance in life to get back on track, with some effort with the help of others,
and certainly help from Hashem, one can hope to have that second chance in life. Perhaps they will be at an older age than many others when it comes to marrying for good the second time around, or joining the fold of Judaism; but as we all know, better late than never. But on a more positive spin, it is precisely sometimes these type of people who messed up earlier in life who can have a positive effect on others who are going through troubled times in their life.

As the verse states U'Bacharta B'Chayim "You shall choose life" (Deutronomy 30:19). The Torah leading up to this tell us that we have the choice of life and death, the blessing and the curse. Why it may seem self evident to some that of course we should choose life, including spiritual life; there are unfortunately many others who have their own concept of what spiritual life is about. That is precisely why the Torah has to tell us to choose life - a life that will ensure the existance of our descendants as this verse concludes.

You see, a life without Judaism, G-d forbid, ends with that person who chose to live life the way that he or she imagines as a "Jewish lifestyle" such as "kosher style" food which give no long term meaning to living as a Jew. This does not prevent Jews from marrying out of the faith should they wish. After all, the nice Shiktza girl doesn't hate Jews (or so it seems) and will even sit down to a Passover Seder. But...the next generation has been shut out of Judaism or is not Jewish to begin with to be able to continue the chain that was unbroken for thousands of years. Without following the Torah manual of how the Torah is meant to be kept, there is no guarantee that Judaism will be kept alive in the next generation. Sure, there are individuals from non-observant homes who become observant, and individuals from observant homes who choose the carefree non-observant lifestyle; but as a rule, if we follow the rules, this will continue on with the coming generations to come.

To note, it was specifically the Jews who were impure from contact with the dead who approached Moses about their disappointment of being left out of bringing the Passover sacrifice. The siginficance of this kind of impurity, though having other types of impurity were also able to prevent one from bringing the Passover sacrifice, is that the concept of impurity of the dead represents the fact that once one no longer lives, he no longer serves a function in this world, and hence, there is a sort of spiritual impurity that the dead person gives to others.

In living terms, one either serves Hashem or does something that goes against serving Hashem. So long as one chooses the correct path of spritual life, he or she can have a positive, spiritual effect on others. However, by not observing this type of lifestyle; it's not simply that one chooses not to live a nice observant Jewish way of life - this person chooses to live an impure, spiritual type of life that can be very negative on others' spiritual wellbeing. There are indeed some Jews who aren't observant, who don't keep Shabbat, Kashrut or the laws of family purity who are truly good people in the sense that they want to be nice to everyone and aren't even prejudiced against observant Jews, and want to help Israel. The sad thing about some of these people is that indeed if they would have been shown the beauty of Judaism, especially in their younger years, many of them would have indeed took up on the offer. However, in spiritual terms, Judaism simply cannot remain among their future descendants if they don't have that Jewish pride and sense to stay married within the Jewish fold and at least give their children some sort of Jewish education that will at least raise a spark in some of them to want to grow more in Judaism. Once there is a want and need for spiritual improvement, such as the want of the Jews with the spiritual impurity of the dead who felt that there would be something missing from their spirituality if they wouldn't bring the Passover sacrifice, then there is at least hope that the torch of Judaism will continue in the coming generations.

As a tidbit to conclude this, the final word of the section of the Torah about the Pesach Sheni is Ha'aretz/the land. This is twice the Gematria of the word Pesach - 148*2=296, which hints to the Pesach Sheni, the second Passover sacrifice that is the subject of this portion of the Torah. As long as we are living on the land, which is Planet Earth, there is hope for us to repent and live a better spiritual Torah way of life, because once we pass away, we have no more opportunity to do so. Many are fortunate that Hashem allowed them to continue living despite having had a physical danger that could have snatched their life in a fraction of a second, such as a car accident, or shot point blank. And just as we praise Hashem at the Seder for all the miracles that He performed for us Jews to facilitate our exit from Egypt and our journey towards Israel, so should we thank Hashem everyday for giving up another opportunity to come closer to Him. In relating to other people, just as Hashem constantly does kindnesses to us - the biggest kindness allowing us to live one more day to have one more chance to earn eternal life in the world to come - so should we reciprocate to other people everyday in some way to have a positive compact on others, and in this way, we will bit by bit be able to bring other Jews closer to the fold of Judaism, so they too will not be left out from the spiritual benefits that observant Jews have.

14 Iyar 5770, Pesach Sheni

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