Taste of Torah
A Bima-Ready D’var Torah Every Week
16 Sivan 5776
Torah Portion: Numbers 8:1-12:16
Haftarah Portion: Zechariah 2:14-4:7
As a loyal Taste of Torah reader, I don't need to tell you about Passover. You're no doubt familiar with the symbolism of the seder plate, the story of the Exodus, and the proper density of a matzah ball. You may even have celebrated a Second Night Seder (or, joined with an ISJL Rabbi for a sederon night 5, 6, 7...). But, have you ever heard of Second Passover? To be fair, you won't find many people celebrating it these days, but its existence tells us quite a bit about our tradition and its priorities.
We read about Second Passover in this week's Torah portion, B'ha-alotecha. The parasha first explains the dates and procedures for the regular Passover. The text notes that the Israelites followed the instructions as commanded. But then we read an interesting digression: "But there were some men who were unclean by reason of a corpse and could not offer the Passover sacrifice on that day" (Numbers 9:6).[i] The men see their neighbors performing this sacred rite and presumably feel left out, which is why they approach Moses and Aaron and say, "unclean though we are by reason of a corpse, why must we be debarred from presenting Adonai's offering at its set time with the rest of the Israelites" (Numbers 9:7)?
To recap, these men are forbidden from participating in the Passover ritual due to their impurity and nonetheless approach the two leaders of the community protesting. The commentator Rashi adds some extra detail, imagining "they came and asked [Moses and Aaron] while the two of them were studying."[ii] Such a situation is surprising, both because the men had such chutzpah, and because the Torah recounts the incident.
Even more surprising is the response; rather than chastise the men for complaining, or explaining the obvious reason they must not participate in Passover, Moses responds by saying "Stand by, and let me hear what instructions Adonai gives about you" (Numbers 9:8).
Sure enough, Moses speaks to God and God responds: "when any of you or of your posterity who are defiled by a corpse or are on a long journey would offer a Passover sacrifice to Adonai, they shall offer it in the second month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight. They shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, and they shall not leave any of it over until morning" (Numbers 9:10-12). In other words, they will observe the day in the same manner, but a month removed. And Second Passover was born.
Even if most of us have never heard of this day, let alone observed it, we can learn a lot from this brief digression in our parasha. A handful of individuals, obviously disqualified from participating in a communal event, refuse to abstain and approach their leader to ask why. Rather than chastise them, Moses advocates on their behalf, perhaps recognizing the reasonableness of their request. Seemingly God does too, and duplicates one of the holiest days of the year to accommodate them. Rashi goes so far as to say "heaven rewards good people by having good things brought about through them."[iii]
Our Torah is full of questioners. Abraham famously questions God regarding the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. Zelophehad's daughters protest their lack of inheritance rights on account of their gender. And here a group of Israelites question their barring from a communal celebration due to their temporary impurity. In each case, God reacts with reasoned consideration. In each case, God listens to the petitioners. And, in each case, the actions were recorded in our holy Torah, and preserved through millennia, as an example of holy and righteous actions.
Next spring, once the silver has been put away and the macaroons resealed to age another year, consider marking your calendar for Second Passover. May it be a day set aside for honoring thelegacy of those biblical figures who questioned; a day for questioning ourselves and our world. After all, our tradition teaches not just that we can question, but that we must.
[i] Ritual purity is necessary in order to offer the Passover sacrifice. There are a variety of ways one can become impure, with one of the most common being contact with a corpse.
[ii] Rashi on Numbers 9:6.
[iii] Rashi on Numbers 9:8.
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May you have a Sabbath of peace!
Rabbi Jeremy Simons
Director of Rabbinic Services
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