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Dvar Torah - Behaalotcha

"Dig into it and dig into it, for all is in it." - Mishna, Pirkei Avot. Government response is a crucial element of government resilience. When political scientists assess how healthy a country's government is, they consider the ability to petition the government for redress. Sometimes the results are surprising. For example., Francis Fukuyama stated that part of China's government's strength is its population's (admittedly limited) ability to informally challenge official corruption through officially unapproved but unofficially tolerated small protests. This creates an accountability mechanism where it initially seems that none exists.

The Torah this week seems to have a similar moment. No mechanism is built into Torah law for petition of grievance and redress. Nevertheless, the Torah tells a fascinating story. In this week's parsha, the Jews are instructed to perform the Pesach sacrifice again in their second year in the desert. However, some community members are unable to do so because they are ritually impure after coming into contact with a dead body. Rather than accept that fact, they petition Moshe to allow them to bring the sacrifice, have pure kohanim perform the sacrificial act itself, and then they could eat the sacrifice while impure. Moshe, unsure of whether to grant the request, bids them wait while he enquires of G-d what to do. The answer is surprising. The impure Jews will not get what they are asking for. They will not be able to bring the sacrifice while impure. However, they are given a second chance in a month once they have gone through the ceremony of being sprinkled twice with waters filled with ash from the red heifer and then gone to the mikveh.

Rashi comments on this story that there was no actual change in the law. Hashem's intent had always been to create this second chance. However, instead of the law being revealed as all others are, simply as Hashem's instructions to Moshe, it was revealed in response to the question those good, spiritually ambitious people asked. This is because "merit is given to those who are meritorious”. They received the merit of revealing a part of the Torah in response to their sincere spiritual desire to partake of the Pesach sacrifice.

This story teaches us two essential lessons. The first is that Torah law is not subject to easy change. The fact that someone feels left out does not necessarily mean that the law can change to meet their demands. However, the second point is that something else often hides in the law, which can answer the concern if only we can see it. Asking the question is always a good idea. It might yield the desired result, or if not, it might be that the Torah has a different answer to your situation. The Torah's method of accountability is only rarely actual change. However, the Torah contains multitudes, and within them, there is often the answer we seek.

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