negotiable 'rules'?

Friday, 17 June, 2022 - 8:08 am

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

My aunt who is a psychologist shared the following observation with me.

‘I ask myself,’ said my aunt. ‘Why is it that when I ask my children to tidy up their room, they tend not to listen. Yet, when I tell my children that they can’t have dairy ice-cream as the allotted waiting time after eating meat according to Jewish law is not yet over, they listen without question?’

‘The answer is simple’ continued my aunt. ‘When I tell them that they cannot eat dairy after meat they hear the absoluteness in my voice. They recognize that there is no room for negotiation. While when I ask them to clean the toys, they sense that this is something I am not so resolute about’.

With G-d’s commandments, since they are Divine, they are absolute. You can’t ‘negotiate’ with G-d to change the rules.

Yet, this week’s Parsha describes what seems to be a successful negotiation.

The ‘second Pesach’.

It’s the chance to bring the Pesach offering in case you missed the first and main opportunity.

Here is how it unfolded. It was in the second year after Exodus. The Jewish people were instructed to bring the Pesach offering. The Pascal lamb had to be offered by every family group. One had to be ritually pure in order to be part of the ‘Korban Pesach’.

After Pesach, some people came to Moshe and Aharon and complained that they had been disqualified from partaking of the offering, as they had been ritually impure. They were the pallbearers of Yosef coffin which accompanied the Jewish people on their sojourn from Egypt to Israel. Coming into contact with a corpse had rendered them unfit to bring the offering. The pallbearers complained “why should we be left out, unable to bring the sacrifice of Pesach?”.

Moshe heard their complaint and informed them that he would ask G-d regarding this matter. G-d responded by granting a second chance. On the fourteenth day of Iyar, exactly one month from the beginning of Pesach the Jews that had not been able to participate in the Pesach sacrifice would be able to bring a replacement sacrifice. This sacrifice was called “Pesach Sheni”, “the second Pesach sacrifice”.

The lesson is simple and empowering. There is always a chance to fix what was omitted.

But let us analyze this a bit further. Was this somehow G-d changing the rules of Pesach? Was this a introduction of ‘flexibility’ in the preciseness of Divine instruction?

Absolutely not.

The people that missed out KNEW that they missed out.

They were not trying to negotiate their way into bringing the offering after the doors were closed. They were fully aware that the rule is a rule and that they were not eligible.

They did however come before G-d humbly and contritely and shared their anguish and pain at having missed out. They implored and beseeched G-d saying, ‘why should we miss out’. They passionately and determinedly appealed to Moshe to find them a way to somehow get them the Pesach offering.

To use a flight analogy, it was as if their airplane had taken off without them. They knew that their airplane had flown. They were not asking to catch that plane.

There was really nothing Moshe could do. Except present their plea to G-d. Which he did. The result was unpredictable and astounding. G-d responded by opening up a new avenue of Pesach offering. Since they were so impassioned about their missed Pesach offering, G-d created a new mitzvah for them. The ‘second Pesach’. An opportunity to make up what they had missed.

It is important to understand the way this works. Hashem didn’t say ‘The rules of Pesach are not really absolute, and you are allowed to bring the offering anytime you want’. The departed airplane had departed. It didn’t come back. Rather, it was if a new airplane was constructed, which they were invited to board.

The epic message that the Rebbe always taught from this mitzvah is that there is no ‘lost case’.

You can always fix things.

G-d gives us a chance to repair.

But before you can make efforts to fix things, it is critical to recognize that the thing is broken.

Ironically, in order to really want to repair, you have to know that what is broken is truly broken.

Because only when you know that you have no way to make up what you omitted, will you be able to dig deep into your soul and be truly contrite. When you know that you are hopelessly lost, you have no illusions of being in control.

When you turn to G-d with truth, from that deep and vulnerable place, G-d gives you the opportunity to repair and be forgiven.

This is what ‘Teshvua’ (return) really is. Returning to G-d after feeling profoundly remorseful for the distance created between yourself and G-d. That deep feeling of remorse gives birth to intensely passionate feelings towards G-d.

This highlights the extent of that unique gift that G-d gave the Jews by giving them the second Pesach chance. It was a chance to fix that which looked irreparable.

In today’s day and age, it’s such an important lesson.

It’s important that we recognize that some things are not negotiable. The word of G-d as taught in the Torah is immutable. Morality is defined by the Almighty.

We have to transmit our insistence on following G-d’s instruction by being clear to those who look to us for guidance. When we say ‘no’ to immoral things we must intimate that our ‘no’ is a hard ‘no’? Not to project that it is a ‘soft no’. Or merely a ‘suggested no’. We ought to be honest and upfront to ourselves, to our youth and to our children that there are firm rules that G-d has mandated.

And that if we break those rules we have broken something in our souls. Irreparably so.

Irreparable from the perspective of man. But not irreparable from the viewpoint of G-d.

When one turns to G-d and truly asks and beseeches G-d for help, something extraordinary happens.

G-d allows us another chance.

This is inspiring and liberating.

Try as hard as you can not to break things. Because you cannot fix what you break.

That is what we must focus on before we ‘mess up’. To stay away from mistakes with all our heart and might.

AFTER one ‘messes up’ the focus must be on what can be done now.

And there is always something that you CAN do.

The second Pesach teaches us that there is always a second chance.

Wherever you are. However, you think you may have been imperfect, you can always fix it.

Let’s go.

Upwards and onwards!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

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