Trekking the Mountain of Life- Parshas Behar and Pesach Sheini (Motzei Shabbos/Sunday of 5777)
Parsha Behar is our guide to trekking the mountain of life and how to handle the disappointments and falls which are an intrinsic part of the trail.
The first topic of the Parsha is Shmitta, the seven year sabbatical for the land of Israel. The essence of the mitzvah is the a shift from our illusion of shlita (control) to shmitta (relinquishing) thereby growing in our recognition G-d’s hand in our lives. Parshat Behar teaches us how to handle the disappointments and failures which are part of the transformation from shlita (control) to shmitta (relinquishing). The subtle one letter difference between these two words, shlita and shmitta is the lamed of shlita and the mem of shmita. The lamed is of a tall and proud shape, towering above all other letters.The mem is bent representing its humbleness and acknowledgement of Hashem. Hiking up a mountain requires great balance, as does life. The first “tip” in climbing the mountain is to seek balance in thought, emotions and actions. Being conscious and mindful that our actions and efforts are only displays of our will. Achievement or failures are in the hands of Hashem. Shmita and shimata’s twin, Shabbos, realign our lives towards equilibrium so that we can proceed with the climb. When transitioning from shlita שליטה(control) to shmita שמיטה (desisting) make sure you don’t make yourself a shmatta! (rag)
Another central topic of the parsha is the options of a destitute person to reestablish himself financially. The Torah offers him various opportunities starting with selling his handheld possessions; if he still cannot break the cycle of poverty he may sell his field. If selling his field is not enough, he may sell his house. If the sale of his house doesn’t generate the income necessary to survive he may even sell himself as a slave. The Torah sets a time frame for these sales. At the end of a certain time period the property, field, home and body (slave) are returned to the seller. In other words, all of these sales are really a system of loans in order to provide new opportunities for the destitute. After a certain period of time (there are many different complex halachos regarding when different sales revert to their original owners) the destitute person is granted a second chance. Hakadosh Baruch Hu always gives us a second chance. (or more)
Motzei Shabbos is Pesach Sheini. The day has much significance. Besides being the day designated as a “make up” day for those who missed out on the first Pesach to bring the korban Pesach (see Bamidbar 9 2-12), it is the day Amalek attacked Bnei Yisrael and it is the day on which the Mishkan Shilo was destroyed, Eli Hakohen killed and the Aron Bris Hashem taken into captivity by the Plishtim. It is also the yat tziyt of Rebbe Meir Baal HaNes.
All of this takes place in the month of Iyar. The letter connected to the month of Iyar is the vav. This fascinating letter has three unique aspects to it: the additive Vav, the connective vav and the trans-formative vav- changing past tense into present and present tense into past. The vav takes the wistful longing for opportunities missed and transforms them into future opportunities. It is the original time machine providing us with a second chance to rectify that which we failed to do in the past. When the people (either those who attended to the bones of Yosef or those who removed the bodies of Aaron’s sons who perished on Rosh Chodesh Nissan) approached Moshe they were full of emunah that Hashem provides second chances. When Hashem responds positively to their request, He adds that if someone was on a “distant roads”, not only one who was consumed with a mitzvah rendering him impure, can make up the missed sacrifice of Pesach on Pesach Sheini.
When the Rambam describes complete repentance in Hilchos Teshuva, he tells us we know we have completed our repentance when we are faced with a similar test to the one we failed and we do not repeat our mistake. That is why we often feel a kind of dejavu with certain relationships or choices we make. Haven’t I been here before? Why do I keep attracting people who insult me/take advantage of me /ignore me? Hashem in his mercy provides us with a second chance to make things right.
Hashem provides us with means of rectifying our mistakes of getting up when we are down. Angels do not have knees. They are always erect. When the fall they are stuck. They have no dexterity which the knees provide to get up. People have berchaim (knees.) Although the angles have been given the glorious opportunity to say “Kadosh, Kadosh,Kadosh” onl y people can l’barech-bless, related to the word berchaim. Because only people rectify their mistakes! Humans were granted an exclusive contract to bless because to bless is to rectify, to bless is to recognize Hashem’s endless benevolence.
Pesach Sheini is the chag of second chances. It’s a day to daven to Hashem that he provide us with the sechel and the resilience to actualize the second chances He generously gives us to not only heal the past, but elevate it.
Amalek specifically attacked Bnei Yisrael on this day because Amalek is the opposite of second chances. Amlak entire philosophy is the antithesis to Pesach Sheini. Amalak believes what was destroyed is destroyed. Amalek never extended anyone a second chance and their punishment is they are the only nation who at the end of the days will not get a second chance.
We all know the famous story of Rebbe Chanina ben Dosa’s daughter who approaches him Erev Shabbos dejected that she switched the oil and vinegar and filled the glasses of the Shabbos candles with vinegar. Rebbe Chanina ben Dosa responds to his daughter: “What do you care? Let the One who commanded oil to burn command the vinegar to burn”. She light the vinegar candles and they burned till the next Shabbos. Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu zt”L, based on the Maharsha has the most fascinating explanation of this esoteric exchange.
Chazal decreed that we light Shabbos candles for Shalom Bayis. When Rebbe Chanina ben Dosa’s daughter approached him, she wasn’t asking for only practice advice. Why would she disturb her sagely father for this? Why couldn’t she have just spilled out the vinegar and refilled the glasses with oil? Exchanging the vinegar for oil was the physical manifestation of a larger issue. The source of Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa’s daughter distress is that she thought she “soured” her marriage. Instead of oil, instead of words which illuminate she used words which sour (represented by the vinegar). Or she “soured” the chinuch of her children. Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa proclaims that making a mistake is not “carved in stone”. “What do you care? ” Why are you perceiving this mistake as the end of your marriage/parenthood? Hashem had granted us the ability to fix. Go apologize, make right what you have wronged. Don’t obsess about the mistakes you made, fix them! And when she does fix them, the lights lasted until the next Shabbos. When we apologize, take responsibility and fix, Hashem illuminates those relationships even more.
The destruction of the Mishkan Shilo, the death of Eli HaKohen and the capture of the Aron were not messages of Hashem telling us goodbye. They were invitations to rebuild and opportunities for a second chance.
Rabbi Meir Bal Haness also called Nehoray (light) was a sofer stam who specialized in fixing sifrei Torah. The pattern of Pesach Sheini is awesome! He is the grandson on Nero the Roman Emperor or according to some opinions a high ranking general in the Roman army. He led the Roman army as they approached Jerusalem in order to destroy the holy city. Upon witnessing what he perceived as clear signs from Hashem that He will always be with His beloved nation, Nero became a Jew. In order to convert without being assasinated by the Romans, he acted insane; he set Rome of fire, acted in a generally self-destructive manner, ultimately faking his death and running away to Israel. His name Nero or Neron connotes candle, his grandson Rebbe Meir illuminated the world with his Torah. “What do you care? He who commanded the oil to burn can command the vinegar to burn!”
Rebbe Meir had two Rebbes: Achair (Elisha ben Abuya, who later rejected the Torah and became an apostate) and Rabbi Akiva. The trajectories of the two couldn’t be more diverse. Achair who attributes his “OTD” issues to being the fault of his parents, (sound familiar) constantly refuses to listen to Rebbe Meir’s pleading with him that he can still do teshuva. Achair has fallen into the trap of Amalek believing that he has no rectification.
Rabbi Akiva resilience and determination to pursue his “second chances” is beyond awesome. Both when he began learning Torah at the age of forty and after all his 24,000 talmidim died, he recruits five new students and begins again. Rabbi Meir being one of those students.
Rabbi Meir who declares “ben kach uben kach bani hem”, in any case, no matter what they do, they are My children. Rabbi Meir is insistent that Am Yisrael recognize that Hashem is always our Father not matter what. Hashem is always guiding us offering us a second chance.
On Pesach Sheini we have the mitzvah to eat matzah. Best if the matzah is from Pesach, but any matza will do. You don’t need to eat maror or lean. But as you are eating the matzah , you might want eat it with saltwater. Cry and beg Hashem for the second chance. Ask Him for the fortitude to humble ourselves repair broken relationships including our relationship with Him. Ask Hashem that He continues to give us strength to climb the mountain and thank Him for the second chances He has lovingly provided us with. Ask that Am Yisrael be given a second chance (really a third one) at having a Bais HaMikdash. Light a candle for Rabbi Meir Bal Haness and give tzedaka in his memory and ask that we bring only light into the world. That our children and all of Hashem’s children illuminate the world with Torah and good deeds. Let us call out to Hashem from the depths of our hearts “lama nigra?” Why should all the lost souls of Am Yisrael be left out? May each Jew be included in the conscious relationship with Hashem! Why should the doors of ruchniyous be closed for me? My husband ? my children? ” And may Hashem answer us with a new chag! A chag where all those who were “defiled” and all of those on a “distant road” and all our spiritual aspirations which were defiled or on a distant road will actualize and be celebrated!
Iy”H I will be going to Merion on Lag B’Omer and happy to daven for you. You can email me names.
More on Lag B’Omer next week iy”H.
A lichtega’ Shabbos,