Philosopher Allan Bloom, author of the 1987 bestselling book The Closing Of The American Mind, argues that the lack of ability to re-examine first premises is one of the major features of modern society. Instead, inertia rules. At any given moment, according to Bloom, at least 95 percent of the world’s population is actually incapable of questioning the premises of their lives or considering any alternatives to the present.
There is, however, a striking narrative in this week’s sedra, which centres on a group of individuals who were willing to question their first premises, with dramatic consequences.
Through no fault of their own, these individuals had missed out on one of the most critical events of the year for the emerging Jewish nation – the second Pesach offering, commemorating one year since the Exodus from Egypt.
The group were ritually impure. Some say that they had been carrying the bones of Joseph. So they could not take part in the festival offering and in a halachic sense they were completely exempt from doing so.
Yet instead of accepting this as fact, they approached Moses with what seems like an audacious request. “Why should we miss out?” they ask. We demand another opportunity to take part in this key ritual.
And God responds by telling Moses that on 14 Iyar, exactly one month later, there would indeed be another opportunity for them to bring the offering, known as Pesach Sheini, or the ‘Second Passover’.
On the face of it, achieving this result must have seemed highly improbable. Yet this group of people were willing to seize the moment and make that critical request.
They were prepared to question their first premises, not to accept the situation as it was, but instead strive to achieve something greater.
As a reward, observe the sages, the entire mitzvah of Pesach Sheini was recorded in the Torah as if it solely came about through their initiative and sincere desire to draw close to God.
Often in life, much depends upon whether or not we are willing to grasp the opportunities that come our way, however fleeting they may seem.
But when we refuse to accept our own first premises as the only option, then the possibility of achieving even our wildest dreams seems that much more realistic.
Yoni Birnbaum is the rabbi of the Hadley Wood Jewish community