THE WILL TO SUCCEED
by Avraham Chaim
Among the many occurrences in this week's portion, the Torah discusses the Jewish people's Passover celebration in their second year in the desert.
Among the many occurrences in this week's portion, the Torah discusses the Jewish people's Passover celebration in their second year in the desert. As the festival approached and it was time to offer the korban Pesach (Paschal lamb), a group of Jews who were tamei (ritually impure) as a result of contact with a dead body, approached Moses with a complaint: "Why should we be kept back from bringing the offering of Hashem in its appointed time?" (Numbers 9:7). Rashi, the fundamental Torah commentator, explains that Moses had taught the people that one is not allowed to bring an offering to Hashem while in a state of spiritual impurity. As such, this group had requested that the Kohanim (priests) should offer the korban Pesach for them. Moses approaches Hashem for a ruling, at which point Hashem teaches them the laws of Pesach Sheni (the second Passover) that somebody who is ritually impure on the regular festival should bring the offering as a quasi-Passover celebration one month later.
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, a great leader of world Jewry in the last generation, asks an important question regarding their request: The Talmud (Tractate Pesachim 61a) states that an offering brought on behalf of a ritually unclean person is invalid. If so, what purpose would there be in having the Kohanim bring the korban Pesach for them if they were in a state of impurity?
From this passage, Rabbi Feinstein derives a fundamental lesson in what our behavior should be as mitzvah-observant Jews. Our outlook should not be that we have certain requirements given to us by Hashem that we will fulfill when possible. Rather, we should view mitzvot as opportunities to demonstrate our love for Hashem and to bring ourselves closer to Him. Looking at our relationship with Hashem in this light, even if the necessary conditions for the fulfillment of a mitzvah may be lacking to the point that we are truly physically incapable of meeting its requirements, our pursuit of that mitzvah should not be diminished. Our love for Hashem will prompt us to involve ourselves in an effort to carry out the mitzvah to the greatest extent possible, despite our knowledge that we will be unable to actually complete it. For example, one who is forbidden by a doctor to eat a substantial amount of vegetables can still demonstrate his eagerness for mitzvah observance by eating a bit of maror (bitter herbs) on Passover night, even though the required measurement might be much more.
In the same vein, the Talmud (Tractate Berachot 35b) praises the early generations of Jews because they were careful to bring their produce into their homes through their courtyards, rather than through the roof which would have absolved them of their obligation to separate tithes. They could have gotten around the obligation through the use of a perfectly valid legal loophole, but because of their love of mitzvot they chose to bring the obligation of the tithes upon themselves.
Rabbi Feinstein further suggests that this is the meaning of the blessing given to a baby at a circumcision: "Just as he has entered into his brit (covenant), so shall he enter into Torah, marriage, and good deeds." Why must we mention good deeds after already mentioning Torah study? The sages speak in very degrading terms about someone who studies Torah not for the purpose of implementing what he learns! Doesn't Torah study automatically include good deeds?
Perhaps, explains Rabbi Feinstein, we are not only giving the newborn child a blessing that he should fulfill the obligatory commandments, but that he should be imbued with a love of mitzvot that will motivate him to put himself in situations where he will be able to fulfill even more mitzvot. Our prayer is that he should grow to demonstrate his desire to carry out even those commandments that are impossible for him to do fully.
Avraham Chaim Feldman, a native Atlantan, is a senior at the Ner Israel High School in Baltimore.
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