Monday, June 2, 2014

Beha'alotcha 74 - Choice and the Perfect Excuse

The Parasha –portion of Ba'alotcha , Numbers 9:1, notes that a year after the Exodus, in the month of Nissan God commanded Israel to bring the Pesach Offering at its appointed time – the 14th of Nissan. There were people who could not bring the Pesach Offering because they were impure and the solution given was that they could bring the offering a month later on Pesach Sheini. This passage seems out of place and really should be written at the beginning of the Book of Numbers- Bamidbar. The Book of Numbers- Bamidbar however starts a month later- Iyar- when the children of Israel were counted and given flags. The question asked is why didn't the book of Bamidbar- Numbers begin with the earlier event, and relate the mitzvah to bring the Pesach offering in the desert. During their 40 year stay in the wilderness, the Israelites brought the Pesach offerings only in the first year. Recording the commandment to bring the Pesach offering as the opening of the Book of Numbers would highlight this failure and be a black mark against the children of Israel. The reason why they could not bring the Pesach offering was that all male children needed to be circumcised. Because of the journey and the climate, it was dangerous to do a Bris Mila = circumcision. If circumstance prevented them from circumcising the boys and then bringing the Korban Pesach, why should not bringing the offering be a black mark against them? Don't we say – ' o'nes rach'mana pa'tra –that God is forgiving and exempts if one cannot comply with his commandments because of circumstances beyond one's control ,duress etc? The question is  rather -  what got them into the situation that made them exempt from bringing the Pesach offering? If not for the sins of the Spies, God would not have detained them in the desert. It was because of their sins that they could not circumcise their children and then bring the Pesach Offering.

I would like to suggest another answer. We see that the tribe of Levi circumcised their children despite the danger. So only the tribe of Levi offered the Pesach Offering during the 40 years in the desert. Their perception of the situation was different and they did not see the situation as preventing them from circumcising their  children and then bringing the Pesach Offering. They chose not to use the ' perfect excuse ' to exempt themselves from fulfilling God's commandments. The black mark against the rest of the Israelites is that they chose to make use of the perfect excuse of    ' o'nes  rach'mana pa'tra –that God is forgiving and exempts if one cannot comply with his commandments because of duress etc .  

An insight about the differences between members of communities will share some light on this difference between the tribe of Levi and the rest of the children of Israel.There are those people who are always are present at and come on time to 'shiurim' = lessons, 'minyan' = prayer sessions or social events. There are those who often fail to attend the lessons, prayer sessions and  yet ,they have the perfect excuses - אונס רחמנא פטרא - God absolves those people because of the circumstances or situation they find themselves. What is interesting it is the same people who never miss a shi'ur = lesson or 'minyan' = prayer meeting and it the same people who always miss here and there ,and always have the perfect excuses, so  it is impossible to find fault with them.

The difference is that the people who always attend,  choose not to take advantage of the ' perfect excuse and their attendance is guaranteed by a commitment, resolve, passion and love for what they do .In response God creates opportunities and an environment which supports their passion and commitment. Those people who choose to take advantage of excuses are provided even more excuses not to attend the minyan or shiurim.
Another difference is that when on the rare occasion these people can't attend they respond like the people in our parasha =portion who could not bring the Pesach sacrifice at the right time because they were impure. They asked Moshe's help and even made a suggestion that a Kohen-priest would bring the sacrifice and sprinkle the blood on their behalf. These people try to find ways so that they can make up for lost opportunities. Those who have the perfect excuses don't have any regrets and are actually happy to be free of any obligation.

The question still remains how the 'tribe of Levi' could circumcise their children when it put their children's lives in danger. They would have to rely on God's intervention and support in the form of a miracle. Just as Leah asked for a miracle, the tribe of Levi felt they could rely on God's help and be confident about the safety and health of their newly circumcised babies. Leah realized that she was about to have another son and that would mean that Rachel would only contribute one son to the 12 tribes, not even equal to one of her handmaids. In order to spare Rachel the humiliation she   asked that her unborn son would become a daughter. The Talmud however says that we cannot pray to change an existing reality like the sex of a fetus so how could Leah ask for this?  The Talmud answers that people who lived and operated on a different level and sphere, pushing their limits to be above nature could ask for miracles. The natural laws that governed their lives were different from other people. So too, the natural laws applying to the tribe of Levi were different because of the way they chose to live their lives

.If we want our kids and students to be at every shi'ur and minyan we need to ' model ' this type of commitment. We need to help them find meaning, purpose and passion   in what they do, to become competent and also feel a sense of support, belonging and community. In this way they will become like the tribe of Levi who never had to make use of the perfect excuse – o'nes rachmana patra... 

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