Many different ideas are discussed in Parshat Behaalotcha, ranging from the lighting of the Menorah to the Halachot of Tzaraat. Included in the vast array of topics is the commandment of Pesach Sheni, the Second Passover. The purpose of this Mitzvah is to allow those people who missed the main Chag to make it up. Who, specifically, is obligated in this Mitzvah, for whom the Torah supplied a second Chag?
There are two groups of people who are required to bring a second Passover offering: people who live too far from the Beit HaMikdash to travel to Jerusalem for the main offering and people who were Tamei, impure, during Pesach. If any person who is physically close and ritually pure misses the first Passover offering, he will suffer the terrible fate of Kareit.
If these are the only circumstances for which someone brings the second Passover offering, then Behaalotcha must be referring to people who were Temei’im, as Bnei Yisrael were not yet obligated in Aliyah LeRegel, the Mitzvah to congregate on the Regalim, and all of the camps in Bnei Yisrael were set up equidistant from the Mishkan. How did these unnamed people become Tamei, and who were they? Why were they so fervent in their Avodat Hashem that they demanded a second chance from Moshe to do a Mitzvah they were no longer obligated to observe?
According to Rabi Yossi HaGelili (Sukkah 25a), the people who beseeched Moshe for a second chance were the people who carried the bones of Yosef HaTzaddik from Egypt. They were Temei’im from contact with bones, a source of impurity. However, Rabi Akiva argues that these unknown people could not have been the carriers of the bones, because they and Bnei Yisrael were camped at Har Sinai for nearly a year by this time, giving them sufficient time to become Tehorim again. If that was the case, then they would actually be Chayavim Kareit, because they were negligent in becoming pure and therefore missed the offering of Hashem! Rather, the people who were Temei’im were Mishael and Eltzafan, the two individuals who carried the remains of Nadav and Avihu from the Mishkan. Rabi Yitzchak offers a third opinion. He says that Rabi Yossi HaGelili cannot be correct, using the same logic as Rabi Akiva. However, Rabi Yitzchak says that Rabi Akiva cannot be right either, because Mishael and Eltzafan also had ample time to become Tehorim. The deaths of Nadav and Avihu occurred on the first day of Nissan, and the Korban Pesach is on the 14th day of Nissan, giving the carriers more than the needed week. According to Rabi Yitzchak, the unnamed people were those who buried a Meit Mitzvah, an unknown person whom they found dead. Rabi Yitzchak’s opinion highlights the great status of the Jewish people in the Midbar – even average people were involved in Mitzvot as important as Meit Mitzvah.
There is no right or wrong answer in this Machloket, and indeed, all of the opinions highlight the great level of the nation. Even according to those who disagree with Rabi Yitzchak’s opinion, the debate reflects positively on the era that requested a Mitzvah without any incentive to do so other than its love of Hashem. As Rabbi Jachter said in class, there is a connection between the forefathers and the children, and hopefully, with the Will of Hashem, we will all be able to rise to this level that members of our nation reached in that time.