Beha’alotecha: Keep Asking

 

Copyright 2012 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Beha’alotecha

“But there were some men who were unclean by reason of a corpse and could not offer the passover sacrifice on that day. Appearing that same day before Moshe and Aharon,  those men said to them, ‘Unclean though we are by reason of a corpse, why must we be debarred from presenting the Lord’s offering at its set time with the rest of the Israelites?’ “ (Bamidbar/ Numbers 9:6-7)

Good afternoon! This week’s Torah portion contains the commandment of Pesach Sheini, or “second Passover,” which is given to the people after a group of men who were ritually unclean- and therefore unable to offer the Passover sacrifice at the appointed time- approach Moshe and Aharon and ask them what to do. (Cf. the verse above.)

Our friend Rashi says that the men approached Moshe and Aharon as they were sitting and learning Torah, but Rashi can’t believe that the Torah is reporting the sequence of events exactly as it happened. He asks: “if Moshe didn’t know [the answer], would Aharon know?” That is, the verse could be understood as:  they asked Moshe and then Aharon- but Rashi has a problem believing that they asked them in that order.

From the standpoint of traditional rabbinic understandings of the roles of Moshe and Aharon, I fully understand Rashi’s question: Moshe was the teacher and prophet, and if Moshe, the source of the teaching, didn’t know the answer to the men’s question, how could Aharon, the student, know the answer?

On the other hand, doesn’t the Talmud tell us that the one who is most wise is the one who can learn from any person? Perhaps the Torah is, in fact, implying that the men sought their answer first from Moshe and then from Aharon; after all, perhaps Moshe forgot, or was preoccupied, or didn’t pick up on some nuance that another understood. None of us can predict exactly where wisdom can be found, and indeed, an aspect of humility is the realization that learning can happen at the most unexpected time and places.

Seen this way, Rashi’s question- “if Moshe didn’t know, how could Aharon know?- begs another question: “if Moshe doesn’t know, why not ask Aharon?” Judaism admires an inquisitive mind, and surely the greatest teachers are most delighted when their students seek the truth with resolve.

Shabbat Shalom,

RNJL

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