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6.9.2016

PostPosted: Fri Jun 09, 2017 6:31 pm
by RabbiMark
In this week’s parsha, Beha’alotcha, we learn of the direction for Aaron to “raise light” in the menorah; we learn about the tribe of Levi being initiated into the Tabernacle’s sanctuary service, about G-d’s directives for the Israelites’ encampment procedures, about their dissatisfaction with the miraculous manna which fell from heaven, about Moses’ appointment of seventy elders to whom he imparts leadership, about Miriam’s punishment of leprosy as the result of her speaking ill of her brother Moses... And we learn about the institution of a “Second Passover”. There’s a lot to draw on here. Beha’alotcha is chock-full of life lessons regarding personal and communal conduct, sibling rivalry, and it offers a strong warning not to fall down the rabbit hole of lashon hara (evil speech/gossip), no matter how appealing the come hither nature of engaging in it may be. This year, the most compelling gem of a message that Beha’alotcha communicates to me is the idea of second chances, as understood through the Second Passover.

Second chances can seem like a fairy tale, a Hollywood mirage, like something that happens for the special few and not for the ordinary many, a special treat the heart yearns for while the mind just shouts in response: The shelves of reality are just not stocked with second chances! The past can be too heavy and the future can be too intimidating when it comes to imagining second chances for oneself, when it comes to the small, fragile thing that is hope.

Who among us hasn’t longed for a second chance, to get to go back and to say no when we didn’t - or yes, to have dreamed a different dream for our lives, to not have stuck our foot in our mouths, to not have walked down the path that chipped our shoulder, to have chosen a different school or partner or thing to whisper to our children, to have said I love you when we didn’t, to have counted our blessings earlier…

In many ways, the Torah can come across as a text that aims to shower people with strict do- and don’t-rules, rules which don’t necessarily shout: Check me out folks, I’m going to make you feel great! Rather, they can come across as imposing, controlling even. But the Second Passover content of this Torah portion shares a whole different window into God’s Torah-based rules, a side of the rules that rings with compassion and grace.

In Chapter 9 of Numbers, we learn that a Second Passover was crafted for those who were unable to bring the Passover offering on the eve of the "first" Passover:

G d spoke to Moses in the Sinai desert ... saying: "The children of Israel should prepare the Passover [offering] at its appointed time. On the fourteenth of this month, in the afternoon ... in accordance with all its decrees and laws...."

But there were people who had become ritually impure through contact with a dead body and therefore could not prepare the Passover offering on that day. They went to Moses and Aaron ... and they said: "...Why should we be deprived, and not be able to present G d’s offering in its time, amongst the children of Israel?"

And Moses said to them: "Wait here, and I will hear what G d will command concerning you."

And G d spoke to Moses, saying: "Speak to the children of Israel, saying: Any person who is contaminated by death, or is on a distant road, whether among you now or in future generations, shall prepare a Passover offering to G d. They shall prepare it on the afternoon of the fourteenth day of the second month, and shall eat it with matzahs and bitter herbs...." (Numbers 9:1-12)

(Even today, there are people who commemorate the date of the Second Passover by eating matzah, just like on Passover.)

When we go beyond a literal understanding of death here and consider being “contaminated by death” in the sense that death is that which disconnects us from life - from our deepest essential selves and from our hearts (e.g., addiction or just getting off course in some significant way) - there is a striking invitation we can grab onto within this parsha, one that says: No matter what, it’s not too late. It never is. Beha’alotcha reminds us that a second Passover was instituted for us so that we don’t have to miss out! The Second Passover correlates powerfully in this way with the essence of t’shuvah, with being given a second chance, with the essence of returning or creating a new template for living.

G-d, in the Torah here, is deeply in touch with our humanity, knowledgeable of and acknowledging our potential frailty - but more importantly, receptive to our prayers cried out in raw asking, and responsive to them. This Second Passover is instituted on behalf of human asking, for those who’ve been “contaminated” or who’ve been on a “distant road” in some way. And likewise, we can understand that it’s just as much for us, for those of us who’ve ventured away from who we’ve – at a core level – wanted to be and who we’ve longed to see ourselves become.

In the institution of the Second Passover G-d allows that, in our turning to our Creator/Higher Power to ask for a second chance, G-d’s mandate will accommodate us. This teaches us that we have the innate capacity to dialogue with our Creator/Higher Power. It teaches us we must advocate for and on behalf of the truth that compels us on the deepest level. It teaches us that we have the power to ask for a second chance when we find ourselves having strayed from - or for any reason, having become off-centered from - the path upon which our soul aims to guide us. It teaches us to be unapologetic in our request for a second chance. It teaches us that we are heard. And it teaches us that G-d considers us worthy of being heard.

May we each be blessed with the ability to cultivate an open state of mind, one that doesn’t presume worst case scenarios, one that looks past heartbreak, not because it is unintelligent or illegitimate to do so, but because it is a state of mind uninterested in past failures, flaws, or violations - a state of mind open to the exquisite infinitude that is possibility. May we each be blessed to have the guts to believe in second chances.