Anyone who has ever played a pick up game in just about any sport is certainly familiar with the concept of a “do over”. Not just in sport, but in all facets of life, the do over is an oft wished for vehicle for making up an opportunity that is otherwise lost. Sometimes, as any Israeli university student who has taken advantage of Moed Bet for an exam can attest, a do over is a very real option. At other times in life a do over is wishful thinking.
In this week’s Parsha we are introduced to the only do over that the Torah offers for a Mitzvah, namely the Mitzvah of Pessach Sheni. Simply put an individual who was unable to bring the Korban Pessach in its appropriate time, either because he was impure or because he was unable to make it to the Beit HaMikdash, has a second chance a month later to fulfill the Mitzvah. When we stop to think about it this is quite remarkable. Would we suggest that someone who was unable to hear Shofar blowing on Rosh HaShana should have a second shot at the Mitzvah on Rosh Chodesh Mar Cheshvan? Couldn’t find a lulav and Etrog for sale before Sukkot? No problem. Keep looking; you can fulfill the Mitzvah a month later.
The scenario described above is obviously absurd. We are familiar with the rabbinic dictum, “Ones Rachmana Patrei”, the Almighty exempts those who are forced (i.e. prevented from fulfilling a Mitzvah). This of course works in both directions. The individual in question is exempt, both from doing the mitzvah as well as from any consequence that might normally accrue from not doing the Mitzvah. Why then would individuals who had been exempted from the Mitzvah of Korban Pessach even think to demand the right to perform the Mitzvah? Yet this is precisely what seems to happen. “We are ritually impure, why should we be prevented from bringing the Korban in its appropriate time (9:7)?” What are these individuals thinking – they have answered their own question! They are Temaim, ritually impure, and the Torah has already declared that someone who is Tameah can not bring the Korban. And more incredibly, why would their request not only be considered by Hashem but even answered?
Chazal already begin to address the first question in the Gemara in Sukka (25a-b). The Gemara wonders exactly who were the people who asked Moshe Rabbenu why they could not bring the Korban Pessach? The Gemara suggests three possibilities. One opinion suggests that they were the people who carried the coffin with Yosef’s bones, another that the individuals are Mishael and Elzafan, who cared for the bodies of Nadav and Avihu after they died in the Mishkan. The third opinion states that they were individuals who had to care for a Meit Mitzvah. The common denominator in all three of these opinions is that the tumah was incurred while doing a Mitzvah. So why should they be penalized for that? The Midrash (Sifrei 68) strengthens their argument by pointing out these individuals were in the seventh day of their impurity and would be ritually pure that evening. Therefore they would be able to eat the korban in its appropriate time after nightfall. The only problem was that they would still be impure when the korban was slaughtered before nightfall. As a result they ran afoul of the prohibition to have the Korban slaughtered at a time when they were still impure. Based on these factors, says the Ohr HaChayim HaKadosh (9:7), we can now understand why the individuals who were Tamei thought to ask the question. Surely there must be room for dispensation for individuals who became impure not only through no fault of their own but as a result of their having stepped forward to do a Mitzvah. Not only that, but they are not suggesting eating from the korban while they are Tamei.
With this background we can now turn our attention to what is perhaps even more surprising, and that is Hashem’s response to the request. We would have thought that despite the extenuating circumstances the petitioners raised the answer would still be no. And in fact it is. They are told that they can bring the Korban a month later, not in its appropriate time as they originally requested. But the question remains. Since when do we offer a do over for a Mitzvah that could not be performed? And even if we wanted to argue that the extenuating circumstances that we describe above are sufficient grounds to offer the opportunity of a Pessach Sheni, why was this opportunity not limited to this one year and this single group of people? Why should the opportunity of Pessach Sheni be extended to anyone who was unable to bring the Korban Pessach at its appropriate time, for all generations? What is special about this Mitzvah?
Before we answer this question a point we made in passing needs to be clearly stated. Pessach Sheni is not an extension of the mitzvah of bringing a Korban Pessach. It is a distinct mitzvah. An individual who brings Pessach Sheni has most definitely not somehow fulfilled the commandment to bring a Korban Pessach. What is extraordinary about this is that there is no other mitzvah which is an attempted re-creation of a different, unfulfilled mitzvah. The closest parallel that we might have is the concept of Tashlumin in tefilla. In that situation an individual who inadvertently missed the prescribed time for a tefilla can make the missed tefilla up by repeating a second Shemoneh Esrei after she completes the mandated Shemoneh Esrei for that time (i.e. she forgot to daven Shacharit, she makes up the missed tefilla by saying two Shemona Esreis at Mincha time). Tefilla, however, is Rabbinic in nature, as is the concept of Tashlumin. Might there be a parallel between tefilla and Korban Pessach?
The Chinuch (Mitzvah 380) tells us what he believes the reason for the Mitzvah of Pessach Sheni is. On Pessach we celebrate the fact that Hashem took us out of Egypt and made us his nation. Hashem’s ability to do so is the clearest evidence of His involvement in the world, an involvement which proves that Hashem is the creator. Because of the seminal nature of Yeziat Mizrayim the Torah wants to provide anyone who missed bringing the Korban Pessach the opportunity to celebrate that recognition.
The Gemarah in Berachot (26a) explains that the reason that Tashlumin is even an option is because tefilla represents our opportunity to ask Hashem for mercy, and we try to avoid denying ourselves that opportunity if we can. When placing this idea side by side with the Chinuch’s explanation we can see a possible parallel develop. In both the case of Korban Pessach and the case of Tefilla we are recognizing an essential element of Hashem’s involvement with the world. In both situations we acknowledge Hashem as being able to influence events and shape history, and more importantly we declare our right to be the focus of that involvement. We are the people whose nationhood was established at the time of Yetziat Mitzrayim and we are the nation that can appeal for Hashem’s mercy precisely because He chose us and made us His nation. Thus, in these two areas, Korban Pessach and tefilla, it is appropriate to create a mechanism that allows individuals who were unable to take advantage of the primary avenue for acknowledging this principle a different way to do so.