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Shabbat Parashat Beha’alotcha 5781

Parashat Hashavua: It’s Good to Be Second or Small

Harav Yosef Carmel

Our parasha deals with the lot of those who lost the opportunity to offer the Korban Pesach on time. The Torah describes these people as having been impure due to “nefesh adam” (the spirit of a person) (Bamidbar 9:6). Hashem’s solution was that these people should offer the Korban Pesach a month later (ibid. 11-12). This set for generations the halachot of Pesach Sheini (the second Pesach).

Chazal discuss what these people, who were exposed to the deceased, had been doing. R. Akiva said that they were the people who took Nadav and Avihu out of the Mishkan. R. Yossi Hagelili said they were those who carried Yosef’s coffin out of Egypt. In this context, the term nefesh adam may have something to teach us.

We have explained in the past that Nadav and Avihu’s death was connected in some way to the punishment for the sale of Yosef by his brothers. In that case, both opinions connect this impurity to Yosef. Chazal teach us that Yosef was called adam, as is apparent in Tehillim 78:60. The midrash (Shemot Rabba  20:19) says that in the merit of Yosef, Bnei Yisrael would do a Pesach katan (a small Pesach). This alternative name for Pesach Sheini is likely no coincidence if it relates to Yosef, as Yosef was called “the (katan) small one among the tribes.” Yosef is also connected to the idea of being second, as his chariot was the called mirkevet hamishneh (the chariot of the number two) (Bereishit 41:43).

Yosef and Yehuda both received a blessing of leadership from their father, Yaakov. However, the order of leadership had Yehuda first and Yosef second. The two tribes could have supplemented each other in a unified manner had the partnership between David and Yonatan the son of Shaul come to fruition, but tragically, Yonatan fell in battle. The second opportunity was at the time of Yeravam, who had divided the kingdom, which had been unified under the dynasty of David and Shlomo. Hashem offered Yeravam that if he relinquished his kingdom, Hashem would allow him to “stroll in Gan Eden with Him and the son of David,” and he refused when he was told that the son of David would walk in front of him (Sanhedrin 102a). Yeravam wanted to be the big one, not the small one, the first and not the second. As a result, the division of the kingdoms became permanent, and the road was paved toward the eventual destruction of the First Temple. Yeravam did not understand the lesson of the Pesach Sheini, the small Pesach in the month of Iyar. Instead, he made up his own unauthorized second Sukkot in the month of Cheshvan (Melachim I, 12:33). What a shame!

The person of true stature is one who knows how to limit his stature, which actually makes him big. Pesach Sheini = Pesach Katan comes to teach us that there is a special value in being #2, in being “small,” in being humble. Humility is the key to unity between Jewish leaders and between all the parts of the nation, who are descendants of Yaakov Avinu.

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