“Why should we be excluded from sacrificing?” (Bamidbar 9:7)
When a group of Jews who were ritually impure could not participate in the korban Pesach, they complained to Moshe and said, “Why should we be exempt from this mitzvah just because we are tamei (unclean)? Isn’t there something for us to do?” In the merit of this response, they were given a new mitzvah of Pesach Sheini, where a person can “make up” the mitzvah of korban Pesach.
Although they ultimately were rewarded, this was not their overriding intention. When the group approached Moshe and suggested that spiritually clean Kohanim should substitute for them in bringing the offering (Rashi, loc. cit.), they knew it would not be considered as if they themselves had actually performed the mitzvah. Why, then, did they ask for others to do the mitzvah “in their name” if they would not be credited as having performed the obligation?
The Torah teaches us the meaning of “doing Your will with all of our heart.” The petitioners were expressing a love for the mitzvah. “True, we are exempt, but why should we forfeit our korban?” What disturbed them was the fact that they would not do the mitzvah.
Moshe Rabbeinu, in the last days of his life, troubled himself to establish three cities of refuge on the eastern side of the Jordan River. The cities would not be effective until their three counterparts were designated on the western side of the Jordan — the place Moshe Rabbeinu would never enter in our Holy Land. With his days rapidly running out, why did he rush to separate these locations as sanctuary cities? Moshe, motivated by love of mitzvot, wanted a share in this commandment even though he would never be permitted to complete its performance.
When Harav Zeev Chichik became ill to the point that he was physically unable to perform many mitzvot, he had a visitor to whom he commented, “I long for the time when I was able to do mitzvot. In my current state, sadly, I cannot do what I used to do and would still want to do, in my service to Hashem.”
“What’s the problem?” the visitor said. “You are exempt! In fact, your mitzvah now is to care for your well-being. Even if you must eat on Yom Kippur, you will be rewarded for taking care of your health.”
“Who mentioned ‘reward’?” Rav Chichik countered immediately. “I’m not talking about reward; I’m expressing sadness at the loss of doing a mitzvah!”
Many times, a person is in a situation where performing a mitzvah is impossible to the point where one is ruled exempt. One may have missed a shiur because of circumstances beyond one’s control. The Heavenly court will not prosecute for such a situation. The individual will be ruled “exempt.” However, the portion of Torah that was learned that day by those who did get to the shiur is lost. The proper reaction is sadness due to the loss incurred.
On the other side of the coin, one should strive to obligate oneself in mitzvot. One who does not own a four-cornered garment that requires tzitzit should purchase one to wear. A woman who is baking bread should make enough to meet the minimum amounts that require separating challah. One who chases mitzvah opportunities will be recognized Above as one who “serves Hashem with love and a complete heart.” Do your best to qualify for that special class of human beings!