This week’s parsha finds Am Yisrael a year on from their departure from Egypt. As we would expect, as that time of year rolls around the people celebrate the festival of Pesach. The Torah informs us at the beginning of the ninth chapter of Bamidbar that Hashem commanded Am Yisrael to perform the Pesach sacrifice in its appointed time. Several of the commentaries ask why this required a specific reminder from God; after all the laws of the Pesach had already been outlined back at the time of the exodus in the book of Shemot. Rashbam explains that in Egypt the festival of Pesach only lasted one day and the laws of the sacrifice there were unlike those of other korbanot. Now, following the completion of the Mishkan, a renewed command was necessary in order to delineate the laws of Pesach for all future generations.
Furthermore, as Rav Hirsch points out, several of the verses in Shemot imply that following the one time sacrifice of the “special” Pesach on the night of Yetziat Mitzrayim, this ceremony was not to be performed again until the people entered the land of Israel (see Shemot 12:25 and 13:5). For this reason Hashem had to give an explicit command to perform the mitzvah of Pesach in the wilderness. It should be noted that this was in fact the only occasion on which the Pesach was celebrated during the forty years in the desert. The next time it was performed was following the entrance into Eretz Yisrael as described in Yehoshua, Chapter 5.
A strange episode occurs following the offering of the Pesach:
“There were certain men who were impure from the dead body of man and were unable to perform the Pesach on that day; they approached Moshe and Aharon on that day. They said to him (them), ‘we are impure from the dead body of man; why should we be kept back so as not to offer the offering of the Lord at its appointed time amongst the children of Israel?’ Moshe said ‘stand here and I will hear what God will command about you’ ” (Bamidbar 9: 6-8).
Hashem responds by telling Moshe of the mitzvah of Pesach Sheni – a form of second chance to bring the Pesach offering. Those who were impure or too far away from the Mikdash at the time when the Pesach is supposed to be brought, are able to bring their korban exactly one month later on the fourteenth of Iyar. In the ensuing verses we find the laws which pertain to Pesach Sheni.
Several questions arise on reading this account: First of all, what was the concern of these “certain men”? Surely, if they were exempt from performing the Pesach sacrifice through no fault of their own, they would not be considered to have done anything wrong. Secondly, why was Moshe unaware of the answer to their question, or rather, why was the possibility of Pesach Sheni not included in the original list of laws in connection with Pesach. In summation, the main question we pose is whether Pesach Sheni was always an option or was it only instituted after this episode?
Let us return to our first question and the concern of this group of people. They state that they are impure and therefore unable to perform the Pesach at this time. However, when expressing their request, they refer to the Pesach as “korban Hashem – offering of the Lord”. This is not the normal term used for the Pesach sacrifice. They also emphasize that they feel they have lost out by not having the opportunity to offer this sacrifice “amongst the people of Israel”.
It would appear that these men appreciate that the korban Pesach is much more than a regular sacrifice. It obviously represents the relationship between the Almighty and His nation. It therefore is performed on a national level and celebrates a primary event in our collective history. For this reason this group of people felt left out. They wanted to take part in this important ceremony even if technically they were not required to do so.
We can further understand this episode if we compare it to a similar event which occurs later in the book of Bamidbar. Following the lists of the families which were designated to inherit portions of Eretz Yisrael, the daughters of Tzlafchad approach Moshe with a request:
“Our father died in the wilderness and he was not among the company who gathered against the Lord in the congregation of Korach, rather he died for his own sin and he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be done away from his family because he had no son; give us a possession amongst the brethren of our father. And Moshe took their cause before Hashem” (Bamidbar 27: 3-5).
Here, too, we find that a group of people, in this case the daughters of Tzlafchad, make an unusual request to Moshe. We can assume that these women would have found a place to live in Eretz Yisrael, whether with their husbands-to-be or their extended family. Yet this was not enough for them. They were not looking for a mere home, a technical solution to the unfortunate situation of them being fatherless. Rather, they wanted to take part in the mitzvah of “yerushat Ha’aretz”, they wished to have a possession of their own, and their father’s, in the land of Israel.
In this case, as with Pesach Sheni, Moshe is unable to respond directly and awaits further instructions from God. The response explains the laws of inheritance in the case when there are only daughters after the death of their father. Would this system not have been instituted had it not been for the daughters of Tzlafchad?
Rashi makes an interesting comment on both the Pesach Sheni incident and the story of Tzlafchad’s daughters which further connects the two episodes.
In connection with the question as to why Moshe was unaware of the law of Pesach Sheni, Rashi states, quoting the Sifri: “This parsha was fitting to be delivered through Moshe like the rest of the Torah but they (the people who made the request) merited that it be said through them for we process merit through those who themselves deserve the merit” (Rashi, Bamidbar 9:8. My translation – the last phrase, “megalagelim zechut al yedey zachai”, is somewhat enigmatic and therefore loses its punch in the translation).
Rashi makes a similar comment in the case of the daughters of Tzlafchad. Although he offers two explanations as to why Moshe was unable to answer their question, Rashi’s second suggestion, taken from the Gemara in Sanhedrin, is almost exactly the same as comments cited above:
“This parsha was fitting to be written through Moshe, but the daughters of Tzlafchad merited and it was written through them” (Rashi, Bamidbar 27:5).
In both cases we see that those who staged the request were considered to be worthy of merit. We are told that these laws could have been included in the rest of Torah and delivered by Moshe in the normal fashion. However, in order to reward those involved, the “innovations” of Pesach Sheni and the system of inheritance (of land and other property) were delivered through them.
Why were they deserving of such a reward? In order to answer this question we note a phrase common to the two stories. In our parsha, the men state “lama nigara”, why should we be left out? In the later episode, the women say “lama yigara”, why should our father’s name be done away with or lost? The linguistic parallel alludes to the thematic parallel between the two cases. Both the impure people in our parsha and the daughters of Tzlafachad had no technical need for a solution to their problem. As stated above, those impure at the time of Pesach were exempt from bringing the korban and Tzlafchad’s daughters would have been catered for in terms of a living abode in Eretz Yisrael. However, they both felt that they needed to be part of these national events. “It cannot be,” the impure few state, “that we are not able to take part in the Pesach, the offering of the Almighty. Surely it is crucial for us to identify with the national and historical significance of this ceremony.” In a similar vein, the daughters of Tzlafchad made their claim. “Every family received a portion in Eretz Yisrael. We too, on behalf of our father and for the sake of his name, wish to partake in this event of great significance for the entire nation.”
In response to the enthusiasm demonstrated by these two groups, in return for their will to participate in these character forming episodes of Am Yisrael’s history, Hashem gave these two sets of laws in their merit. May we merit to follow in their footsteps and exhibit the same zeal and excitement for mitzvot and for Eretz Yisrael.