Monday, May 27, 2024

Learning To Yearn From Pesach Sheini

 

 

We have always been taught that there are no coincidences. In particular, my rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Hutner, regularly reminded us that “great things are never random” (Pachad Yitzchok, Purim 3:2; Chanukah 10:7; Yom Hakippurim 36:2). I would therefore like to suggest that the fact that Pesach Sheini always falls during Sefirah just before Lag Ba’omer carries great significance and can be a crucial factor in our lives and particularly in our spiritual growth. Let us examine, to the limits of our abilities, the significance of these days on our annual calendar.

We must begin with the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh’s well-known question concerning Pesach Sheini. The Torah (Bamidbar 9:7) tells us that there were people who could not offer the Korban Pesach because they were defiled. However, they asked, seemingly almost demanded to know, “Why should we be diminished?” The Ohr Hachaim, amongst other meforshim, doesn’t understand the question. They themselves admitted that they were tamei and were not permitted to offer the korban. How could they demand anything?

He answers that they had become defiled through a mitzvah. Furthermore, they knew that tumah hutra b’tzibbur – there is a dispensation for tumah that affects an entire segment of the nation. The Sheim M’Shmuel adds that since they were carrying either the aron of Yosef Hatzaddik or those of Nadav and Avihu (see Sukkah 25a), it was as if they were performing the mission of all of Klal Yisroel and should be considered eligible to offer the Korban Pesach.

The Chiddushei Harim of Gur (see Sifsei Tzaddik, Behaaloscha) explains that the Torah (Bamdibar 9:2) tells us that at the end of our sojourn in the midbar, Klal Yisroel offered the Korban Pesach. Rashi adds that the posuk is implicitly criticizing Klal Yisroel for not having offered the Korban Pesach during the entire forty years of their travels. The question is therefore raised that if they were obligated, why didn’t they, and if they were exempted, why were they criticized?

The Sifsei Tzaddik answers that the majority of Klal Yisroel were compared unfavorably with those who were tamei but were mortified that they couldn’t perform the mitzvah. He teaches that this is a perennial lesson to us all. It is one thing to be incapable of doing a mitzvah. It is quite another to be complacent about the fact. Hashem created a new halacha and mitzvahPesach Sheini – for those who were brokenhearted that they were missing a mitzvah in their lives. It is not enough to be potur. One must deeply care and mourn the loss, even if it is permissible and even inevitable.

Rav Boruch Rosenblum (Sefer Boruch Yomeiru, Bamidbar, page 133) notes that Chazal (10b) teach from all three sections of Tanach that “we are led in the direction that we wish to go.” This can be a negative, such as those who apparently were not sufficiently concerned about offering the Korban Pesach in the midbar. However, this can also be a positive, because “If one wishes to purify himself, he will be helped in his endeavor” (Yoma 38b). Thus, for better or worse, it is always up to us. Even if things are extremely bleak, Hashem helped many in the concentration camps bake matzah for Pesach, build rudimentary sukkos, and blow shofar.

I heard the story from several people who were there that through an open miracle, Telz rosh yeshiva Rav Chaim Stein and several other Telzers were provided with candles on Chanukah on the famous trans-Siberian train to Shanghai. The others all attributed the neis to Rav Chaim’s tears because he couldn’t perform the mitzvah. Of course he was potur; their lives were at stake. But Rav Chaim taught us that such a fact shouldn’t be accepted without shedding a tear.

Rav Hutner always reminded us on Sukkos that the source of the entire Yom Tov of Sukkos flows from the “waters below crying that they, too, like the waters above, want to be near the King.” They were therefore rewarded with the nisuch hamayim – the pouring of the waters – on the mizbeiach to bring them close to Hashem as well (Bereishis Rabbah 5:4; Rabbeinu Bachya, Vayikra 2:13). This is the secret of gaaguim and kisufim, righteous yearnings even for what seems to be impossible. Chazal (Bava Basra 123a) derive this from Leah Imeinu as well. She seemed destined to marry Eisav, while Rochel would marry Yaakov. However, she literally cried her eyes out to merit the kedusha of Yaakov Avinu and to become a mother in Klal Yisroel. The result was that the majority of Klal Yisroel came from her thanks to her tears and cries for what did not seem to be happening at all.

Yaakov Avinu’s son, Binyomin, also merited having the Shechinah in his territory (Megillah 26a) because he was pained that it initially was not. It is apparent that yearning and pining for kedusha has results. Even when it is a matter of intellectual capability, Hashem will change this too.

More recently, Rav Pesach Pruskin was a mashgiach in a yeshiva and one day had to give the shiur klali in the absence of the rosh yeshiva. A sharp bochur caught him in what seemed to be a mistake in interpreting a Tosafos and he yielded to the brilliant young scholar. However, he later cried himself to sleep on his shtender. In the morning, he woke up and was able to give the most lomdishe shiur, even to his most expert of talmidim. Eventually, he was to raise talmidim muvhakim such as Rav Moshe Feinstein. Such is the power of yearning for kedusha. As we quoted last week from Rav Michel Yehudah Lefkowitz, the Torah is a gift, regardless of I.Q. or other irrelevant factors.

There is even a halacha that derives from all these machshavah teachings. We all know that the Torah is likened to water (Bava Kamma 17a). We also know that there is a unique halacha about drinking water. If one needs the drink only to swallow a pill, he does not make a brocha (Brachos 44a). This is because “we are obligated to drink the words of the sages with thirst” (Pirkei Avos 1:4). In other words, to the extent that we are hungry and thirsty for the word of Hashem, Hashem grants us the opportunity, venue and ability to accomplish our wish.

Let us now return to Sefiras Ha’omer and Lag Ba’omer. It has often been noted that although we all walk around unshaven and in need of a haircut, it is difficult to mourn the passing of Rabi Akiva’s talmidim. Although we annually review the Gemara (Yevamos 62b) that delineates this tragedy, it is hard to actually feel the loss. We didn’t know any of these tzaddikim, nor are we capable of evaluating the loss. However, we can and must yearn. The Torah that we do have today is a result of the five talmidim with whom Rabi Akiva resurrected Torah Shebaal Peh in Klal Yisroel.

We do know what it means to lose a gadol who we knew. Many of us, especially in the Far Rockaway area, but also around the world, are mourning Rav Yechiel Perr, who just passed away. We are hearing more and more about his Torah, his middos, his place in the glorious chain of Novardok, and his mesirus nefesh for Torah lishmah.

What we must do is channel this most recent loss into 24,000 and try to imagine what Torah would look like today if Rabi Akiva’s talmidim had all survived. They were to have been the gedolim of the next generation, the bearers of the mesorah of their great rebbi and the mantle of the Tannaim and the Mishnah. Unfortunately, due to their lofty status, they were judged severely and perished. Perhaps we, too, were unworthy of the incredible stature the Torah world would have had if they had survived and flourished. On a smaller but not insignificant level, we must imagine what our world would have been like if Rav Elchonon Wasserman, the Belzer Rebbe, the Koziglover Rov and all the kedoshim who were murdered by the Nazis had lived and blossomed. Of course, we can’t really know what either alternative reality would have been like. But we can yearn.

The same is surely true of Lag Ba’omer, but on a different level. It is said (Pri Chodosh) that the reason that Moshe Rabbeinu’s yahrtzeit of 7 Adar is sad and that of Rav Shimon Bar Yochai is celebrated is because of the nature of their petiros. After Moshe passed away, many halachos were forgotten, needing to be restored by the pilpul of Osniel Ben Kenaz. However, on the day of Rav Shimon Ben Yochai’s petirah, he revealed one of the most sublime sections of the Zohar. The day is therefore sad but also replete with gratitude and simchas haTorah for what we gained, not just lost, that fateful day. However, despite this important distinction, we can and must yearn for the return of kedusha and the ongoing Torah that was Rav Shimon. This is the true lesson and opportunity of the holy days ahead, of Pesach Sheini and Lag Ba’omer. Let’s use these productively and wisely.

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