Failure to sacrifice the Korban Pesach incurs a severe penalty, Kares, excision. This punishment has both a physical and spiritual consequence. In this world the offender dies prematurely, but even worse, the sin spiritually cuts at the eternal soul and weakens one’s connection to Hashem.
Negative precepts have many gradations in severity and can be organized by their respective penalties. The punitive repercussion is indicative of the weight each offense carries. Positive Mitzvohs rarely incur any proscribed punishment and none consign the sinner to lashes or death by human intervention. Why does a lapse in performance generally carry a lesser punishment than a negative offense?
Of the two hundred and forty eight active commandments, there are two Mitzvohs that are more severe than the rest. The two that break from the standard, Circumcision and offering Korban Pesach, stand apart and mete Kares to the transgressor. What is unique about these two Mitzvohs? Why do they carry such a strict punishment? Lastly, are these two Mitzvohs somewhat alike?
Taking a married couple as a paradigm will help us understand the difference between Mitzvohs and Aveiros. A husband may be negligent in respecting his wife, for example he forgets her birthday, this may create ill feelings between the couple and damage their relationship. On other occasions the husband when feeling upset or betrayed, directs nasty verbal epithets towards his wife. These too are pernicious and noxious to their unity. Which is worse? Obviously actively doing wrong is more detrimental and will have greater adverse repercussions than failing to give positive recognition.
We too have a relationship with Hashem, an Aveiroh in essence is an active break in the set rules for this marriage. Conversely being remiss in Mitzvoh observance is lacking to provide positive input. That is why sins that involve wrongdoing carry harsher punishments than falling short in performance of constructive commandments. Indeed, some felonies are so severe that they incur death by the court.
Let us turn to Circumcision and Korban Pesach; although these are positive instructions and carry the Kares sentence, this for an entirely different basis. The reason why these Mitzvohs incur excision stems from their fundamental purpose. These Mitzvohs are at the heart of our connection with the Divine and delineate our exclusive relationship with Hashem. Let us explore:
Bris Milah as its name implies, is a covenant, a bond with Hashem. Each member of our nation personally carries a constant symbol of his individual pact with Hashem. Similarly Korban Pesach is an annual commemoration of our national birth. Back in Mitzrayim we were forged into a nation on this night of Pesach and this sacrifice serves to recall our national identity as a G-dly inspired people.
Missing out on partaking from the Pascal offering or remaining uncircumcised is not just to be remiss in our duties but to ignore that we have a relationship. Omitting to betroth one’s wife with a wedding band is not a feature of a negligent husband, rather the man has failed to perform the very action that forges him into a husband. Likewise, it is not the severity of these crimes that warrant extermination as a consequence, but the absence of these wedding Mitzvohs with the Almighty, results in self excision.
Reb Eliyohu Kramer (1720 – 1797) better known as the Vilna Gaon or by his acronym Gra (“Gaon Rabbenu Eliyohu”) was one of the foremost leaders of the past few centuries. Despite his great stature in the Jewish world, the gentiles incarcerated the venerated sage for imagined misdemeanors.
When they tried the Gaon, it was apparent to the judge, that the sage didn’t value him and those he represented, as being worthy instruments of justice. The fact he didn’t view them as bearers and regulators of the law bothered them to no end.
The Vilna Gaon, later commentated that in the eyes of the court, worse than the crimes that he allegedly committed was the fact he failed to recognize them as court.