Beha’alotcha, Numbers 8:1-12:16; Parashat HaShavua for Shabbat, June 22, 2024

As a people who have survived for thousands of years with a collective sense of national identity and a particular religious practice, we Jews have shown remarkable adaptability. Had we stayed fixed in our old ways, we might have disappeared. 

For example, after the Temple was destroyed and we could no longer worship God through animal sacrifice as had we had for a thousand years, our Sages of Blessed Memory changed Jewish worship from sacrifice to prayers, study and acts of loving-kindness and kept the Jewish religion alive. After the Romans exiled us from the Land of Israel, we found a way to live, in exile, among the nations of the world while maintaining our own identity, often at great cost. As a people and a religion we live between the poles of tradition and change, as well as commitment to core values combined with flexibility. This is not a new reality, but dates back to our beginnings as a people. 

In this week’s Torah portion we read God’s instructions to the Israelites, “ Let the Israelite people offer the passover sacrifice at its set time: you shall offer it on the fourteenth day of this month, at twilight, at its set time; you shall offer it in accordance with all its rules and rites.” (Numbers 11:2-3) God commands the time that Pesach will be celebrated. That seems clear enough. Then a few verses later we read, “And Adonai spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelite people, saying: When any party—whether you or your posterity—who is ritually impure or is on a long journey would offer a passover sacrifice to Adonai, they shall offer it in the second month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight.” (Leviticus 11:11-12) In other words, the Passover sacrifice MUST be performed on a set date and time, for anyone who is able. But those who are unable to do so, can do it a month later. This is not permission to celebrate Passover whenever we want, but does allow flexibility to those who can’t. Circumstances matter, integrity matters, and adaptability matters as well. We need to negotiate all three to remain a living people and a living religious tradition.