Being A Helper: Shabbat BeHa’alotecha, Pesach Sheni, and Becoming a Bar Mitzvah

Yishama Frydman Orlow’s Speech on Becoming a Bar Mitzvah June 22, 2019:

Mr Rogers is often quoted saying:

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.When things look grim, there are always people helping and they deserve our attention.

In this week’s Parsha we learn about the case of men who are deemed impure and are on the verge of getting cut off from the people. They could not participate in giving the Korban Pesach with the rest of Bnei Yisrael and are going to be punished with Karet. The Torah describes them as:

אֲנָשִׁ֗ים אֲשֶׁ֨ר הָי֤וּ טְמֵאִים֙ לְנֶ֣פֶשׁ אָדָ֔ם וְלֹא־יָכְל֥וּ לַעֲשֹׂת־הַפֶּ֖סַח בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֑וּא

… men who were unclean by reason of a corpse and could not offer the Passover sacrifice on that day( Numbers 9:6)

These men went to Moshe and Aharon saying :

לָ֣מָּה נִגָּרַ֗ע לְבִלְתִּ֨י הַקְרִ֜ב אֶת־קָרְבַּ֤ן יְהוָה֙ בְּמֹ֣עֲד֔וֹ בְּת֖וֹךְ בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל

Why must we be held back from presenting the Lord’s offering at its set time with the rest of the Israelites? (Numbers 9:7)

In response to this line of questioning, we get the only do-over in the Torah. A month after Pesach they are told to offer the Korban Pesach celebrating Pesach Sheni and avoid getting Karet, getting cut off from the nation.

This parsha of Pesach Sheni raises a few questions for me:

    1. Why does this case deserve a do-over?
    2. Why are they so disturbed about being left out and getting Karet?
    3. And who exactly are these people?

In Masechet Sukkah in a discussion about the halakhic principle that “one who is engaged in a mitzvah is exempt from performing another mitzvah” the Rabbis explore various identities of the men in question (Sukkah 25a-b). The one that most intrigued me was taught by Rabbi Yossi HaGalili and Rabbi Yitzhak. They reasoned that at the time of giving the Korban Pesach the men in question in our Parasha were impure because they had carried Yosef’s bones out of Egypt.

What is the significance of this? While these men were nameless, their act was not a random one. There at the end of the book of Bereshit we read:

So Yosef made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “When God has taken notice of you, you shall carry up my bones from here.” (Genesis 50:25)

These people were clearly not doing a random act of chesed. They were fulfilling a commitment of their ancestors to bring Yosef’s bones home. Despite having sold their brother into slavery, when they showed up in Egypt to escape the famine in Canaan, Yosef helped them. These men who could not give the korban pesach were fulfilling a long standing commitment to help the helper.

But who was Yosef? Looking at his life we come to a deeper understanding of our parsha. Yosef was sold by his brothers into slavery. He spent his life cut off from his family and even spent years unjustly incarcerated being cut off from society. In many ways his life is the paradigm of Karet, being cut off from the nation. In a symbolic way, these men are trying to repair Yosef’s life of Karet. This goes a long way to explain why these men would be indignant that for the reason of helping the helper. In 1940 Rabbi Jacob Kohn of Temple Sinai in Los Angeles wrote:

Our faith is kept alive by the knowledge, founded on long experience, that the arc of history is long and bends toward justice.

It took generations, but of course these men deserve a do-over, that is justice for the helpers. We can learn a valuable lesson about our jobs as human beings from the helpers carrying Yosef’s bones who got a second chance so that they would not cut off the nation. Indeed, we need to look out for the helpers who were looking out for the helper, Yosef.

In a critique of what he sees as the misuse of the “Look for the helpers”quote Ian Bogost wrote in the Atlantic:

We must stop fetishizing Rogers’s advice to “look for the helpers” as if it had ever been meant for us, the people in charge—even in moments when so many of us feel powerless. As an adult, it feels good to remember how Mr. Rogers made you feel good as a child. But celebrating that feeling as adults takes away the wrong lesson. A selfish one. We were entrusted with these insights to make children’s lives better, not to comfort ourselves for having failed to fashion the adult world in which they must live. (Atlantic October, 2018)

On the occasion of my Bar Mitzvah, my becoming an adult, I ponder what it means to join the group of people who have power. We cannot just look for the helpers, we have the responsibility to be the helpers so that generations to come live better lives. As Rav Nachman teaches, “If you believe you can break, believe you can fix.”

Thank you to everyone here for helping keep me accountable for stepping up and being a helper and I hope together we can fix the problems in our world.

I am so proud of the person that Yishama is and the helper that he is becoming.

Advertisements

2 Responses to “Being A Helper: Shabbat BeHa’alotecha, Pesach Sheni, and Becoming a Bar Mitzvah”


  1. 1 stmessin June 24, 2019 at 4:40 pm

    How well put Mazal tov Nancy and stu

    Sent from my iPhone

    >


  1. 1 All in One Place: All of Our Speeches on the Occasion of Yishama Becoming a Bar Mitzvah | Said to Myself Trackback on June 24, 2019 at 3:22 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s




Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 187 other followers

Archive By Topic

Advertisements

%d bloggers like this: