Taking advantage of opportunities and missing-out on them
Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald – The Parasha in our everyday life – Acharei Mot - Pesach Sheni - Lag B'Omer – 5781
Taking advantage of an opportunity that has come our way, has such a sweet taste, it fills our hearts with so much satisfaction, especially if it is a non-recurring 'golden opportunity' - a one-time only, that has brought us much benefit. On the other hand, missing an opportunity can have such a sour taste, accompanied by much frustration, especially when it comes as an opportunity that will not be repeated, and caused us a great loss. Sometimes we torment and do not forgive ourselves for missing out.
Not only in our individual lives there are opportunities seized or missed, but also in the public life and at the national level there are opportunities. Some opportunities are utilized, and some are missed, Make or Brake, some are a 'blessing for all generations' and some are a 'Weeping for generations'. Hence the importance of timing and synchronization for everything:
לַכֹּ֖ל זְמָ֑ן וְעֵ֥ת לְכָל־חֵ֖פֶץ תַּ֥חַת הַשָּׁמָֽיִם׃
"A season is set for everything, a time for every experience under heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3: 1).
Therefore, when we are presented with an opportunity to perform a Mitzvah, we must seize the opportunity and hurry to fulfill it, lest it be missed.
ושמרתם את המצות - אל תקרא כן אלא ושמרתם את המצות כשם שאין מחמיצין את המצוות כך אל יחמיצו את המצוות אלא אם באת מצוה לידך עשה אותה מיד
"Do not read “את המַּצּוֹת”, the unleavened bread, but את הַמִּצְוֹת “[ye shall watch] the Commandments” — just as we may not cause the unleavened bread (Matzot) to become leavened by letting the dough remain in its raw state too long so, we may not let the commandment become “leavened” by waiting too long before we perform it; but if it (a commandment) comes to your hand, perform it immediately (Mekhilta d'Rabbi Yishmael 12:17:1).
Hence the rule that "Ein Ma'avirim al HaMitzvot, אין מעבירין על המצוות
(do not offend a Mitzvah by postponing it) - One may not forego performance of any of the mitzvot in order to perform another Mitzva." (Yoma 33a)
This week will take place 'Pesach Sheni' (Second Passover). This is a special and rare date that allows for a 'second chance', a second scheduled date aka 'Moed Bet' for those who 'missed' the first date of the Passover sacrifice, because he was impure or in a distant way. (Even if there are differences in the manner of existence between the two dates).
The mourning customs of Sfirat HaOmer, which we will end this week on Lag BaOmer, stem as well, from the mourning of missing an historic national opportunity. HaRav Kook זצ"ל explains extensively the connection between mourning over the death of Rabbi Akiva's disciples and the failure of the Bar Kochba revolt. The revolt created an opportunity:
שֶׁהֲרֵי רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא חָכָם גָּדוֹל מֵחַכְמֵי מִשְׁנָה הָיָה. וְהוּא הָיָה נוֹשֵׂא כֵּלָיו שֶׁל בֶּן כּוֹזִיבָא הַמֶּלֶךְ. וְהוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר עָלָיו שֶׁהוּא הַמֶּלֶךְ הַמָּשִׁיחַ. וְדִמָּה הוּא וְכָל חַכְמֵי דּוֹרוֹ שֶׁהוּא הַמֶּלֶךְ הַמָּשִׁיחַ. עַד שֶׁנֶּהֱרַג בַּעֲוֹנוֹת.
"For Rabbi Akiva, one of the wisest of the Sages of the Mishna, was King Ben Coziba’s arms-bearer and said that he was the King Messiah. He and all the Sages of his generation thought that he was the King Messiah, until he was killed because of his sins.” (Rambam- Laws of Kings and Wars 11:3).
Rabbi Akiva, the leader of the generation, identified an historic opportunity for redemption and political independence, and supported the revolt and Bar Kochba, but his contemporaries were unworthy and missed the historic opportunity.
וכולן מתו בפרק אחד מפני שלא נהגו כבוד זה לזה... תנא כולם מתו מפסח ועד עצרת
"…and they all died in one period of time, because they did not treat each other with respect… (With regard to the twelve thousand pairs of Rabbi Akiva’s students), the Gemara adds: It is taught that all of them died in the period from Passover until Shavuot". (Yevamot 62b).
The revolt failed. Hence the weeping and mourning for generations during Sfirat HaOmer.
Nowadays, our generation also remembers the Waiting Period* (Six-Day War) תקופת ההמתנה, Tkufat HaHamtana. Militarily, there was a springboard of military power, and when the opportunity arose, it became a military punch and an unprecedented victory, which led to a turning point in the State of Israel's history.
This principle is also found in the opening of our Parasha:
וַיְדַבֵּ֤ר֙ ה' אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה אַחֲרֵ֣י מ֔וֹת שְׁנֵ֖י בְּנֵ֣י אַהֲרֹ֑ן בְּקָרְבָתָ֥ם לִפְנֵי ה' וַיָּמֻֽתוּ׃ וַיֹּ֨אמֶר ה' אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֗ה דַּבֵּר֮ אֶל־אַהֲרֹ֣ן אָחִיךָ֒ וְאַל־יָבֹ֤א בְכָל־עֵת֙ אֶל־הַקֹּ֔דֶשׁ מִבֵּ֖ית לַפָּרֹ֑כֶת אֶל־פְּנֵ֨י הַכַּפֹּ֜רֶת אֲשֶׁ֤ר עַל־הָאָרֹן֙ וְלֹ֣א יָמ֔וּת ...
"Hashem spoke to Moshe after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they drew too close to the presence of Hashem. Hashem said to Moshe: Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come at will into the Shrine behind the curtain, in front of the cover that is upon the ark, lest he die…" (Vayikra 16:1-2)
The commentators wanted to know the meaning of וַיְדַבֵּ֤ר֙ and וַיֹּ֨אמֶר "Spoke" and "Tell" which apparently are the same, regarding the prohibition of entering the 'Holy of Holies' (Kodesh HaKodashim), and why doesn't the Torah spell out what G-d told Moshe on this occasion? What bearing does this have on the content of G-d's message? "Make him wonder: 'Hashem spoke to Moshe' and we did not know what the speech was? "(Malbim ibid) "Why did the Torah have to add that this communication occurred after the death of two of Aaron's sons…?" (Or HaChayim ibid).
And in the Torat Kohanim the answer comes as a parable:
הָיָה רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן עֲזַרְיָה מוֹשְׁלוֹ מָשָׁל לְחוֹלֶה שֶׁנִּכְנָס אֶצְלוֹ רוֹפֵא, אָמַר לוֹ אַל תֹּאכַל צוֹנֵן וְאַל תִּשְׁכַּב בְּטַחַב; בָּא אַחֵר וְאָמַר לוֹ אַל תֹּאכַל צוֹנֵן וְאַל תִּשְׁכַּב בְּטַחַב שֶׁלֹּא תָמוּת כְּדֶרֶךְ שֶׁמֵּת פְּלוֹנִי, זֶה זֵרְזוֹ יוֹתֵר מִן הָרִאשׁוֹן
"What is this statement intended to tell us? (i. e. why is it at all stated when G-d spoke this to Moshe?) Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah illustrated this by a parable: It may be compared to the case of a sick person whom the physician visited. He (the physician) said to him: “Do not eat cold things nor sleep in a damp place!" Another physician came and said to him: “Do not eat cold things, nor sleep in a damp place so that thou mayest not die as Mr. So-and-so died!" Certainly this (the latter) put him on his guard more than the former." (Rashi ibid)
"ונראה כי רבי אלעזר בן עזריה לא לקושיא זו נתכוין, אלא על קושיא אחרת בא לתרץ, והיא מה שהקשינו: למה איחר ד' לצוות מצוה זו לאהרן עד עתה? והיה מושלו לרופא וכו', שהרופא המזרז הרבה הוא שאומר כדרך שמת פלוני, וכמו כן עשה רופא ישראל שהמתין עד שמתו בניו כדי לזרזו ביותר, ומביא התנא דברי רבי אלעזר בן עזריה לתרץ גם קושית כפל הדיבורים וכו'" (אור החיים שם).
"It appears that Rabbi Eleazar ben Azaryah did not address the problem of the warning itself but the problem of why the warning coupled with the threat of death, for ignoring it was so much delayed that G-d issued it to Aaron only in our portion instead of in chapter 9, and why he compared it to the parable with the physician. Normally, a physician who wants to impress his patient mentions that failure to adhere to his instructions has already cost patients' lives. The physician of the Jewish people, i.e., G-d, did just this when He issued His instructions to Aaron in this instance. Until Aaron's sons died G-d had not been in a position to accompany His warning with an example of the consequences of not heeding it. Torat Kohanim therefore quoted Rabbi Eleazar who also answered the question why the same warning had to be issued with two separate words." (Or HaChaim ibid)
"Aaron's sons' death" summoned the severity of the entrance into the sanctuary at any time. And this is what determined the timing of the commandments and their context.
This coming week we are going out to a mass recruitment campaign designed to allow us to complete our Beit Midrash's construction. We have a special opportunity to 'complete the building' and we pray that Hashem will help us take advantage of this opportunity so it will not be missed!
בּורֵא עולָם בְּקִנְיָן, הַשְׁלֵם זֶה הַבִּנְיָן
Creator of the universe as His acquisition, You complete this building!
*(The 3-week interval in the history of Israel, May 15 – June 5, 1967, between the Egyptian crossing of the Suez Canal into the Sinai Peninsula and the outbreak of the Six-Day War)