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Parshat Be’halot’cha – Opportunities, Not Burdens

Be’halot’cha (Numbers 8-12 )

Bamidbar, 9:6-7“There were men who had been contaminated by a human corpse and could not make the Pascal Lamb Offering on that day: so, they approached Moshe on that day. Those men said to him, ‘we are contaminated through a human corpse. Why should we be diminished by not offering Hashem’s Offering in its appointed time among the Children of Israel?”
Rashi, 9:7: Dh: Lama nigra: “…it was fitting that this portion should have been written by Moshe like the rest of the whole Torah. Yet, these [men] merited that it be said through them, because we give merit to those who are deserving.”

The Torah relates that at the time of the offering of the Pascal Lamb Offering, there were a number of men who were unable to perform the Mitzva because they were impure due to their involvement with a human corpse.1 However, they were unsatisfied with the fact that they could not perform the Pascal Lamb Offering through no fault of their own, and asked for an opportunity to fulfil it.

The Seforno2 elaborates on their exact complaint based on the Talmud3 that explains why they were impure. The Talmud brings two opinions: One holds that it was because they were the bearers of the coffin of Yosef. The second opinion is that they had come upon an unattended, unidentified corpse and had fulfilled the commandment to bury it. Either way, they became ineligible to do the mitzvah of the Pascal Lamb Offering because of their involvement in a different commandment.

The Seforno explains that their issue was that it was not fair that their performance of one commandment prevented them from performing another commandment. The Sifri describes these men as “bnei adam kesheirim v’charedim al HaMitzvos’ – righteous men who were careful about commandments. Rashi relates that these men merited a great reward – that the Torah records that the mitzvah of Pesach Sheini, the Second Pascal offering, was brought because of their initiative.

Rabbi Meir Rubmanl4 asks why it is so obvious that they were such great people from the fact that they complained about their inability to do this mitzvah? He answers by citing the Talmud in Brachot: 5 The Talmud compares earlier generations to the later generations in the context of the obligation to take Maaser (tithes) on one’s produce. If a person brings his produce through the doors of his home, then he is obligated to take tithes. However, if he brings it through the garden or something similar, then he is exempt.

In earlier generations, people would go out of their way to bring their produce through the doors of their houses in order to obligate themselves in taking tithes, even when they would otherwise bring them through the garden. However, in later times, the people acted in the exact opposite manner and they would bring the produce through their gardens in order to exempt themselves from taking tithes, even when otherwise, they would bring them through their homes.6

Rabbi Rubman explains the difference between the two generations. The later generations feared G-d and they were very careful to avoid sinning, and they exempted themselves to avoid the risk of stumbling in the laws of separating tithes. However, the earlier generations were on a higher level of love of God, because one who loves G-d does not try to exempt himself from opportunities to do His will. On the contrary, he strives for ways to connect to G-d through Mitzvot. In this way, the later generations were on a lower level in that their love of G-d was not great enough to motivate them to grab as many Mitzvot as possible.

The question arises as to why the earlier generations were so much greater than the later generations in this area? The key to answering this question appears to be in another comparison that the same section of Talmud makes between the two generations: It states that the later generations made their work ‘keva’ – (fixed) and their Torah ‘arai’ (temporary) while the earlier generations made their Torah fixed and their work temporary. This means that for the earlier generation, their main focus was in the spiritual realm, and their involvement in the physical world was merely a means to and end of focusing on spirituality. In contrast, the primary focus of the later generations was on succeeding in the material realm and their spiritual accomplishments were secondary.

It seems that the two comparisons go hand in hand: When a person’s main goal is to succeed in the physical realm, then he will not strive to grab every opportunity that arises in the spiritual realm. Rather he will try to fulfil what he is obligated to do but no more. Consequently, he will happily exempt himself from spiritual obligations in order to gain materially.

In contrast, when a person’s ultimate purpose is to grow in his relationship with G-d, then he will grab every chance to do so. Consequently, he will strive to obligate himself in Mitzvot because he does not see them as a yoke that has to be fulfilled, rather as an opportunity to achieve one’s goal in life – closeness to G-d.

Returning to the people who complained about missing the opportunity of the Pascal Lamb offering. The fact that they were so upset about missing this Mitzva demonstrates were comparable to the early generations in that they yearned for opportunities to do Mitzvot and were not looking to exempt themselves when possible.

The following story demonstrates that even in more recent generations, some Tzaddikim reached this level. Rabbi Yissachar Frand relates that he read this story of a young Yeshiva student who was learning in Radin, where the Chofetz Chaim lived.

One Thursday night, he studied Torah until the early morning and was on his way home from the study hall. It was a snowy, cold night. The young man was walking home late at night and saw another man walking up and down the street. When he came a little closer, he noticed that the person was none other than the Chofetz Chaim. The Chofetz Chaim asked him “What are you doing up so late at night? It is cold. Go to sleep!” The boy returned to the host where he was staying, which happened to be the house of the sister of the Chofetz Chaim.

The boy woke up Friday morning and told his host – “You know, last night I saw an amazing sight. It was two o’clock in the morning and your brother was running back and forth in the street. What was he doing there?” The sister told the young man, “This is already the third night in a row he is doing this. He has been trying to say Kiddush Levana (the Blessing over the New Moon) for the last three nights. There was not a clear night during those days of the Polish winter to enable him to see the moon.”

Rabbi Frand observes, comparing this to the impure men of the Parsha:

“The Choftez Chaim was walking the streets at two o’clock in the morning on a cold snowy night. He told the student, “Do not be crazy. Go home already.” but he kept walking the streets trying to catch a glimpse of the new moon. Our attitude – in the winter months – is “Nu, this month we will not be able to say Kiddush Levana. There is always next month.” It is not our fault. It does not bother us in the slightest. The Chofetz Chaim’s attitude was that of the Temei Mes (people who were impure because of contact with a corpse) who complained to Moshe. Why should we miss out?

The Chofetz Chaim clearly reached a very high level, but the obvious lesson to be derived here for each person on his level is that the attitude of trying to fulfil one’s obligations demonstrates a fundamentally flawed outlook on our relationship with G-d. Such a person views it as a secondary obligation that must be overcome in order to enable a person to achieve his ‘other’ goals such as financial success. By studying the Torah attitude in this area, and with guidance from Torah scholars, can a person begin to genuinely shift his outlook to somewhat resemble those of the men who brought about the commandment of Pesach Sheini.


By Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen


  1. The Talmud brings two opinions as to why they were impure. One was because they were the bearers of the coffin of Yosef. The second opinion is that they had come upon an unattended, unidentified corpse and had fulfilled the Mitzva of burying it.
  2. Seforno, Bamidbar, 9:7.
  3. Sukkah, 25a.
  4. Zichron Meir, cited in Lekach Tov, Bamidbar, pp.81-82.
  5. Brachot, 35b.
  6. This interpretation is based on the Yismach Moshe, Beshalach.

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