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The Continued Relevance of Pesach Sheini

Today's parasha discusses the fascinating topic of Pesach Sheini, the Second Passover, which occurs 30 days after Pesach itself. Lubavitch Chassidim mark the occasion by eating matza; the rest of the Jewish world simply makes note of this rather obscure day and moves on. But Pesach Sheini is worth a second look. People who were ritually impure or on a journey during Pesach and couldn’t offer or eat the Passover Offering wanted a second chance. Moses obliged: they were allowed to consume the offering, but were not responsible for any of the other Pesach mitzvoth.

This raises two questions. First, how could the Pesach offering be offered on a non-holy day so long after the festival,despite the positive mitzvah of offering a korban in its appropriate time? Second, if there is a Pesach Sheini, why doesn't the same law automatically extend to Shavuot and Sukkot? The first question has a straightforward answer. If the Passover offering is offered too late— anytime after sunset on Erev Pesach, its status reverts to a 'peace offering'; and it may still be offered as such. Since this type of offering may be brought any time, and since it is identical to the Passover offering in everything save its timing, there is no issue of bringing this offering on Pesach Sheini.

The second question is answered by a host of commentaries, yet its answer is more elusive. Most commentaries see Pesach Sheini as the epitome of 'the second chance.' But, we must then ask, why does this concept not extend to the other Pilgrimage Festivals? What makes Pesach unique? Midrash Rabbah says all these Festivals are equivalent, claiming that if the Israelites 'had but asked for the same treatment for Shavuot and Sukkot, it would have been granted.' The fact that Pesach was the only Festival that concerned the Israelites underscores Pesach's uniqueness. Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneersohn says the Lubavitch custom of eating matza is related to the idea of Pesach Sheini being a 'special day honoring the concept of second chances.' Matza represents the ideal state of the person who is ready to do Teshuva and engage in self-improvement. Matza is bread stripped to its essential ingredient - water and flour -without the yeast of self-importance. On Pesach Sheini the Israelites were given another chance because they were willing to confess that they were absent from the original Pesach observance and wished to do something about it. Here, argues the Rebbe, are the classic elements of repentance: the acknowledgement of error, the promise not to do it again, and the proper behaviour then practiced.

And why was Pesach singled out as the exemplification of Teshuva? Let me suggest that Pesach is 6 months and 4 days after Yom Kippur. Think of all the maintenance checks needed on a car to maintain its warranty, some of which must be done every six months. How much more must we revalidate our ability to self-improve? Surely, we need a check in period as well, and the assurance that those who don't pass the test, can at least do something about this. Pesach serves this purpose for another reason: it is a foundational holy day: witness how the Torah counts months beginning with Nisan. Without the events of Passover, Israelites would not have been able to fulfill the Abrahamitic promise given to them. Even today, the Pesach seder remains among the most-performed universal Jewish rituals. Jews who are normally not observant make sure to be home or with family for Pesach Seder. With Shavuot so close, and Sinai so near, it is vital to remember that the road to Revelation contains many moments of human weakness. That is why we need a second chance. May we be wise enough to see our errors, correct them, learn from them, and grow through them, and not be ashamed of honest mistakes.

 

 

 
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