How should we respond when there are those in our community who tell us that they feel excluded?
In this week’s parsha Beha’alotcha, two people explain that they were tamei meit at the time of the Korban Pesach, and were therefore unable to bring it (Num 9:6). These people were upstanding members of the community, so much so that they had taken upon themselves to care for a dead person, one of the highest forms of chesed, as it cannot be repaid. These are people who take seriously their obligations to the community and to God.
Yet because of this, they were unable to bring the Korban Pesach. It seems unfair! The Korban Pesach commemorates the moment when HaShem took slaves out of Egypt and turned them into a nation, but these people, who were tending to the needs of the nation, are not able to bring that korban.
So these people approach Moshe and ask a heartfelt question: “Lamah nigara – Why should we be excluded?” (Num 9:7). Why are we being kept apart from the community that we are trying so hard to help and be a part of?
It is a bold question, because at first glance the answer is obvious. Sorry, you missed your chance. HaShem told us when to bring the korban. You did not do anything wrong per se, but this is just the way it is. You will get another chance in the future.
Yet Moshe responds differently. He listens to the story and is moved to action. Moshe brings the question to HaShem. Why should people who are not in the wrong, who are members in good standing, who actively participate in the community, need to continue to be excluded? Do we really need to stand on precedent when it is directly excluding real, good people? As a leader, Moshe sees his responsibility to elevate the needs of those who have been excluded by no fault of their own.
The result? HaShem agrees. Of course HaShem agrees! Why should they be excluded, there is no good reason. Moshe saw an injustice and took action immediately. He could have dismissed it and saved himself time and energy. He could have said “Look, we know the halakha.” Instead, he worked hard to find a way to be more inclusive and remedy the injustice right away. That is the mark of a true leader who seeks to elevate everyone in their community.
There are many people in our communities who are crying out “Lamah nigara” and we have the easy answer of “You did not do anything wrong per se, but this is just the way it is.” We have not been going out of our way to make sure that everyone can come to shul. Hashem’s response to Moshe in Parshat Beha’alotcha teaches us that concerns of exclusion are legitimate, and warrant immediate consideration, if we want to build a holy nation.