“And he shall bear his sin.”
Today’s Daf Yomi reading continues the discussion of the concept of a second Pesah, which is essentially an opportunity to do over the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb for certain eligible categories. We learned yesterday that those who are impure, on a distant journey or who failed to observe the first Pesah unwittingly should observe the second Pesah. Today, we enter into a dialog among three Rabbis on the obligations and resulting punishment of failing to observe the first and second Pesahs. It is a fascinating example of how the Talmud allows us to enter the inner chambers where these discussions may have occurred across time and space.
We are introduced in today’s Daf Yomi to what I am calling the Paschal lamb version of crime and punishment, which is a spiritual death known as karet. We learned yesterday that if one simply forgot to participate in the first Pesah, there is an opportunity to make up for the missed opportunity a month later during the second Pesah. But if the miss is intentional, one is liable to receive a punishment of karet, which could result in a severance from the community and a spiritual death. If an actual death is essentially a one-time event because once you are gone, you are gone, the idea of an everlasting spiritual death would have been terrifying for a person who transgressed religious laws.
We are told that Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi had ruled that if one could not observe the first Pesah and intentionally refrained from observing the second, he would be liable for karet for passing up the opportunity to make things right. Rabbi Natan disputed this opinion and said that because the Torah does not specify that karet should be handed down for failing to observe the second Pesah, there is no such punishment required. There is a third opinion in this dialog of crime and punishment. Rabbi Hanaya ben Akavya said that if one intentionally fails to observe the first Pesah, he is liable to receive karet only if he intentionally fails to observe the second. In other words, the two observances need to be considered as a pair of obligations.
We are told that according to Rabbi HaNasi, a convert to Judaism during the month between the two offerings, or a minor who came of age during that time, are liable to participate in the second observance. Rabbi Natan, however, says that there is no obligation to observe the second Pesah for those who were not obligated to observe the first. Like Rabbi Akavya, he is considering the two observances as intertwined obligations.
The difference in opinion can be understood in the perspective of each Rabbi. Rabbi HaNasi sees the second Pesah as a separate festival with its own obligations. Rabbi Natan sees it as a redress for the missed first Pesah, although the opportunity to re-do the missed opportunity does not cancel the failure to observe the first. Rabbi Akavya held that that the second Pesah repairs the failure to offer the Paschal lamb on the first occasion and is not an “independent obligation” but rather, “a second chance to avoid the liability to receive karet.”
We are told that all three men relied on this verse from Numbers (9:13) to support their differing opinions: “But the man who is ritually pure, and is not on a journey, and refrains from offering the Paschal lamb, that soul shall be cut off from his people; because [ki] he did not bring the offering of the Lord in its appointed season, that man shall bear his sin.” Rabbi Yehuda interprets “and refrains from offering the Paschal lamb, that shall be cut off” to mean that karet would be handed down if one fails to participate in the first Pesah. He points to the word “ki” to mean if he also did not observe the second Pesah.
Rabbi Natan interprets “ki” as “because.” He says that this means that “because he did not bring the offering” in the appointed season of the first Pesah, he is liable to receive karet. Rabbi Akavya also interprets “ki” to mean “if” but has a different spin. He parses the reference to “its appointed season” to mean the second Pesah. In his view the two days are seen as a pair according to this passage, and if one intentionally refrained from offering the Paschal lamb on both the first and second Pesah he is liable to receive karet, and if he unwittingly forgot both occasions, he is exempt.
There is more. Both Rabbi HaNasi and Rabbi Natan agree that if one intentionally ducked out of the first obligation to offer the Paschal lamb, but unwittingly forgot the second, he is liable to receive karet because he failed to rectify his transgression with a do-over. Rabbi Akavya would find him exempt. The tables are turned, however, if one unwittingly forgot the first Pesah, but intentionally refrained from the second. Rabbi HaNasi would find him liable, while the other two Rabbis would not because he did not intentionally skip out on the first obligation.
So, there you have it: one verse three Rabbis, and three interpretations. At the heart of each interpretation is the concept of intention, which has been a theme from the start of this Daf Yomi cycle. And of course, it is important to honor your obligations and do the right thing. But no one is perfect, and life can get in the way. And often, it is not about the mistakes that you make, but how you recover from them and the lessons that are learned. It is a gift when life presents us with a second chance.
When there is an opportunity to fix something that went wrong, take it, and fix it, and run.