The Torah in Parashat Behaalotekha (9:1-14) tells of the law of pesach sheni – the opportunity given to those who could not offer the pesach sacrifice at its proper time, to bring the sacrifice one month later, on 14 Iyar. This law was introduced after Benei Yisrael were commanded to offer the korban pesach in the wilderness a year after the Exodus, and a group of people found themselves unable to bring the sacrifice, as they were in a state of tum’a (ritual impurity). They came before Moshe and pleaded, “Why should we be deprived of offering the sacrifice of the Lord at its time, among the Israelites?” (9:7). In response, God told Moshe that although these people could not offer the sacrifice on the 14th of Nissan together with the rest of the nation, they should bring the sacrifice one month later, on the 14th of Iyar.
The Chiddushei Ha-Rim, cited by his descendant, the Beit Yisrael (Emor, 5729), noted the symbolic significance of this story. Oftentimes a person finds himself in a state of “impurity,” on a low spiritual level, where he is not able to serve God on the same level as others. Whether it’s due to mistakes we have made, opportunities which we have squandered or time that we have wasted, we are all limited in what we are capable of achieving in the present, in our current position and circumstances. The story of pesach sheni, the Chiddushei Ha-Rim taught, shows us that rather than despair, we should cry, “Lama nigara,” feeling a desperate longing and desire to achieve greatness. As in the case of the pesach sheni, we will indeed be unable to achieve the ideal standard, but, nevertheless, we can and should still serve God even in our current state. Even if we cannot offer the “sacrifice” in its ideal form, God lovingly accepts the “sacrifice” we are capable of making in our present condition.
The message being conveyed is that while we must always strive to serve the Almighty perfectly, on an ideal standard, we must not despair or give up when we fail, or when this is not possible. Even when our “impurities” prevent us from serving God in the ideal fashion, there is still a “sacrifice” we can bring now, in the condition in which we find ourselves. Our responsibility is to achieve the best we can under our current circumstances, even if it was our own “impurities,” our mistakes and failures, which brought us to our current, far-from-ideal circumstances.
This message might also be reflected in the Gemara’s discussion concerning the identity of this group of impure individuals in the pesach sheni story. According to one view cited by the Gemara (Sukka 25), these individuals were tamei because they were carrying the bier of Yosef, which Benei Yisrael brought with them from Egypt so that Yosef could be buried in the Land of Israel. It has been suggested that the connection between Yosef and the law of pesach sheni is not merely incidental. Perhaps the central defining characteristic of Yosef’s life is his making the most of even far-from-ideal circumstances. Cruelly banished from his home and forced to work as a slave, Yosef did not wallow in self-pity or helplessness, but instead worked hard to achieve, to serve his master as best he could, thereby earning his trust and admiration. And then, after being imprisoned on false charges of attempted rape, Yosef took responsibility for his fellow inmates, ultimately being assigned the role of assistant warden, in the capacity of which he interpreted two prisoners’ dreams, which eventually led to his becoming the Egyptian vizier. Even under the darkest, dreariest, most discouraging circumstances imaginable, Yosef achieved to the very best of his ability, rather than despairing.
This is, indeed, the message of pesach sheni. If we are unable to offer the ideal sacrifice, then God wants us to offer the second-best sacrifice. There is no reason to fall into depression or despair when our “impurity” prevents us from being the people we had dreamt and aspired to be. We should instead continue to dream and aspire to be the best we can be under our current circumstances, recognizing that this is, ultimately, all that can ever be expected of us.