“The Lord spoke to Moshe, saying: Speak to the Children of Israel, saying: When any man shall be impure by means of a corpse or on a distant journey for you or for your future generations, he shall offer the paschal lamb to the Lord.  During the second month, on the fourteenth day in the afternoon, they shall offer it, with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. They shall not leave it until the morning, and they shall not break a bone in it, in accordance with the entire statute of the paschal lamb they shall do it.” (Bamidbar 9:9-12)

The ninth chapter of the book of Bamidbar begins almost one year after the Exodus. The Israelites are encamped at Mt Sinai and the festival of Pesach is fast approaching. Hashem commands Moshe to instruct the nation to offer the Pesach sacrifice on the fourteenth day of Nissan, in accordance with all the relevant laws that are enumerated in the twelfth chapter of Shmot. This was to be the first time the Pesach sacrifice was offered outside of Egypt. There were commandments issued with regard to the paschal lamb offered in Egypt that applied only that year, such as the requirement to apply its blood to the lintel and side-posts instead of applying the blood to the altar. Now, in the wilderness, the people will bring their lambs to the Tabernacle where they will be slaughtered and their blood placed on the altar. The carcass will then be returned to them to be roasted and eaten that night with matzo and maror. The Israelites diligently followed Moshe’s instructions. There were, however, certain men who had come into contact with a corpse and were thus impure and unable to offer the Pesach sacrifice. They approached Moshe and asked why they should be deprived of presenting the offering to Hashem and whether there was any solution to their problem.  Moshe consulted with Hashem who responded by instructing such people to bring their offerings a month later, on the fourteenth of Iyar, or Pesach Sheini, the “second Passover.”

The laws of the Pesach Sheini are virtually identical to the paschal lamb that is brought in Nissan, other than these exceptions: the person bringing the offering does not have to rid their home of chametz and there is no Yom Tov associated with the offering. The lamb is prepared by roasting it whole and it is consumed together with matzo and maror. No chametz may be consumed with it. One of the laws that the ‘regular’ and second Pesach offering have in common is that one may not break the bones of the animal while eating it. What is the reason for this injunction?

Perhaps the most famous explanation of this mitzvah is to be found in the Sefer HaChinuch, “the Book of Education.”  The Chinuch, as it is commonly known, was written anonymously by a great scholar in Spain who identifies himself in the introduction as a Levi from Barcelona. He writes, “Therefore I deemed it proper to record the mitzvoth according to the sequence in which they are written in the Torah to inspire the hearts of the youth, my son and the lads who are his friends every week, after they study that week’s portion to realize the number of mitzvoth they have read and to familiarize themselves with them.” The Chinuch does much more than simply list the six hundred and thirteen mitzvoth in the order in which they appear in the Torah. He also provides a digest of the laws applicable to that mitzvah and where the mitzvah is discussed in the Talmud; the applicability of the mitzvah (at which times and to which people it applies) and, most famously, the underlying purpose of the mitzvah. This section, which he calls the “shoresh” (root) of the mitzvah, provides a moral lesson we are supposed to extract from the mitzvah.

In regard to  the Pesach sacrifice (the ‘regular’ and second paschal lamb), the Chinuch lists no less than thirteen mitzvoth, two of which relate to the prohibition of breaking the animal’s bones. As an overarching theme for all the mitzvoth connected to the Pesach sacrifice, he writes (mitzvah # 5), “Among the underlying purposes of this mitzvah is that the Jews should recall for all time the great miracles that Hashem, blessed be He, performed for them at the Exodus from Egypt.” He then adds the following when discussing the mitzvah not to eat the Pesach sacrifice partially roasted or boiled (mitzvah # 7): “And as for this particular mitzvah which we are commanded to eat it specifically roasted, because it is the manner of princes and nobles to eat roasted meat since it is good and tasty food whereas common people are unable to eat the paltry amount of meat they can afford unless it is boiled so as to be able to fill up their stomachs. Now, since we eat the Pesach offering to commemorate our exodus to freedom, whose objective is to become a “kingdom of priests and a holy people” (Shmot 19:6), it is surely fitting for us to conduct ourselves with regard to its consumption in a manner of freemen and nobility.” The Chinuch continues this theme in mitzvah 16, the prohibition to break the bones of the Pesach sacrifice: “The basis of this mitzvah also derives from the principle mentioned previously insofar as it is not honourable for princes and counselors of the world to scrape off the bones and to break them as dogs would. To act in such a way is befitting only to the poor among the people, who are ravenous. Therefore at the commencement of our attaining the status of “treasured of all the nations” and a “kingdom of priests and a holy people”, as well as each and every year, at that time, it is fitting for us to perform the activities wherein we display the lofty status to which we ascended at that time. Through the deeds and symbolism in which we engage, this matter is implanted in our souls forever.”

It is at this point that the Chinuch goes off on a tangent in which he reveals what he believes is one of the most fundamental purposes of all mitzvoth. Addressing his son, he writes that perhaps the young lad might be perplexed as to the need to have so many mitzvoth that essentially impart the same message: we became freemen at the time of the Exodus and we should therefore act as befits royalty and nobility. Would one mitzvah not suffice to achieve this end? He answers emphatically in the negative: “It is not out of wisdom that you would challenge me on this and it is childish thinking that would influence you to speak in such a manner. Now, my son, if you have understanding, listen to this and incline your ear and hear. I will instruct you for your benefit in Torah and mitzvoth. Know that a man is affected in accordance with his actions, and his heart and thoughts constantly follow the deeds in which he is occupied, whether good or evil. Even someone who is entirely wicked at heart, for whom every product of the thoughts of his heart is but evil always, if his spirit were to be aroused and he were to diligently place his efforts and activity in the study of Torah and in the performance of mitzvoth, even if not for the sake of Heaven, he would immediately turn toward the good path. Through the strength of his deeds, he would eventually slay the evil inclination. This is because the hearts are drawn after actions. Even if a person is righteous and his heart is straight and perfect, desirous of Torah and mitzvoth, if he were to constantly engage in false conduct, you may say, by way of example, that the king coerced him and appointed him to a wicked trade, in truth, if all of his activity, constantly all day, was in that trade, he would eventually retreat from the righteousness of his heart to become an entirely wicked individual! For the matter is known and true: that every man is affected in accordance with his actions, as we have stated.”

The Chinuch is emphatic in the belief that thoughts follow actions. A person who is stingy with his money cannot transform into a generous philanthropist by attending seminars or reading books on the importance of charity. It is only the act of giving that will transom him into a giver. The more regularly he gives, even in small amounts, the more likely it will be that his character will change. This is why, according to the Chinuch, God gave us so many mitzvoth, as the Sages (Makkot 23b) said, “The Holy One, blessed be He, desired to confer merit upon Israel, therefore He gave them Torah and mitzvoth in abundance.” The more mitzvoth we do and the more often we do them, the greater chance we have of becoming holy and good people. This is because our actions influence our thoughts. The Chinuch notes that the Sages (Menachot 43b) hinted to this principle when they said, “Anyone who has a mezuzah on his doorway, tzitzit on his garment, and tefillin on his head, assuredly will not sin.” This is because these are constant mitzvoth and one is affected by them constantly! Thus, the anonymous author concludes his words to his son, “Therefore, you should look, indeed look at what your occupation and activities are, for you will be drawn after them, but you will not draw them!”

Good Shabbos

Rabbi Liebenberg

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