It’s an amazing story, really—one of the greatest biblical accounts of human initiative.

It occurred in the Sinai desert, on the first anniversary of the great exodus from Egypt. Preparations were under way for the festivities commemorating a full year of freedom for the Israelites.

In future generations, this holiday would become known as Passover. One of its central rituals was the offering of the Paschal lamb, around which families would congregate and hold the Seder. Much of today’s Seder mirrors that first desert Seder of old: matzah, maror, eating, expounding, singing, and praising G‑d while celebrating joyously in the company of family and friends.

On that glorious afternoon, however, not everyone was enjoying themselves. A group of Israelites stood off to the side, observing with envy the boisterous festivities reverberating throughout the glowing camp.

They were ritually impure, and consequently forbidden by G‑d’s law from offering the holiday sacrifice. But that didn’t stop them from yearning to thank G‑d for their freedom.

They weren’t just hungry to belong, to share in the palpable spirit of brotherhood that pervaded the camp; they craved to experience the fervor of their co-religionists, evident in their shining eyes.

Burning with holy desire, they banded together and advanced on Moses’ tent. They cried out to their leader: “We are contaminated through a human corpse; [but] why should we be diminished by not offering G‑d’s offering in its appointed time among the children of Israel?”1

Let’s freeze this frame for a moment, and analyze the absurdity of these men and their petition.

They had answered their rhetorical question even before asking it by stating, “We are contaminated through a human corpse.”

They knew the law well, and made no effort to challenge its logic, to have it reexamined or overruled. Neither did they excuse their actions or claim ignorance of the consequences. They simply asked that the law be ignored.

That takes chutzpah.

Think about it. If they would have sought the counsel of cool-headed acquaintances before impulsively lobbying Moses with a sob story, they would have been talked out of their appeal. “G‑d’s word on this issue is clear and unequivocal,” they’d have been told. “The Pesach offering requires a state of purity.”

But they acted on a stirring of soul, not from sobriety of mind. They defied, rather than denied, the irrationality of their request, because they were driven by ambitious souls, and not by lonely spirits or hungry bodies.

In a burst of religious passion they intuited what has since become religious doctrine even more unequivocal than the Law of Moses: that G‑d does not reject any sincere desire to draw close to Him.

Until that historic exchange between Moses and a group of impure men, there was only the law. From that point onward, a new law was written for those who couldn’t conform to the original law:

“G‑d said to Moses, saying, ‘If any man will become contaminated through a human corpse, or is on a distant road, he shall make the Pesach offering for G‑d. In the second month, on the fourteenth day in the afternoon shall they make it…2

This law did not commence by divine logic; it was born of deep human longing to cleave to G‑d. In a sense, then, 612 of the commandments were initiated by G‑d, while the 613th was initiated by man.