As far as I can remember, I’ve had one association with the 14th of Iyar: It’s the day my father, Aharon Kohane z”l, passed away. He was only 48 years old and died from ALS, a horrible debilitating disease. As a child, I dreaded yod dalet (14) in Iyar. It meant people pointing and looking at us with pity; it meant standing in shul, mumbling Aramaic words; it meant heading to the cemetery in the hot days of early summer, staring at the white stone and thinking about things I was way too young to think about.
So it took me a long time to learn that the day of his passing is actually a unique date that originated in the Torah; a day critical in meaning as well as ancient and modern practices.
We turn to the Book of Numbers, 9:1-14, and are witnesses to an interesting situation:
Moses tells the Children of Israel about the Pascal offering, which should occur on the 14th of Nisan (the month parallel to April). This seems pretty straight forward, but unlike most of the time when Moses speaks and everybody says amen, here a few people raise their heads from their notes and wonder, yes, but what if…??
We’ll see it again later with Tzlofchad’s daughters (Numbers 27:1-11). Here too, we’re presented with a case study: There were people who were ritually impure because they attended to a dead body and thus could not celebrate on the 14th of Nisan. What should they do? Should they miss this annual celebration??
“Wait here”, says Moses, “and I will hear what G-d commands concerning you”. These are the moments I like and admire Moses the most: when he says, ‘I don’t know’; when he doesn’t assume; when he models to us that it’s ok to not know, and it’s ok to ask.
And G-d answers with such a reasonable and Jewish () reply: “Speak unto the children of Israel, saying: If any man of you or of your generations shall be unclean by reason of a dead body, or be in a journey afar off… in the second month on the 14th day at dusk they shall keep (the Pascal); they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs…”
If you missed the first Pesach, (for a good reason), says the Almighty, that’s alright. You have another chance one month later (which this year is tomorrow), thus called Pesach Sheni, 2nd Passover. No, there is no need to go crazy and clean the house from chametz, again, just because one of the family’s members was away or “ta-me” (ritually impure, and on that concept a longer conversation some other time -) or on a journey, but we should not miss an opportunity to come close to G-d.
We’re not naïve: There are enough things in life which come only once and once they are gone, they’re gone, but for those things we can have a second chance with? Let’s!
One of my favorite verses is in this week’s portion, Bechukotai: “If you walk in my laws”… (Leviticus 26:3). Walk in my laws? I can get that we are supposed to “keep” laws, “remember” or “fulfill” laws, but walk in them??
Indeed, the Torah is very clear that it’s all about a journey, and what we have is a map for a good path to travel between arrival and departure from this earth. How wide is the path? How far can we veer off to see a nice vista point or explore a bit before we lose the main road? Is it ok to travel in jeans and t-shirt or should we wear skirts and hats?? There are times that we think we got the answer, and we “know” it all. Then comes Moses and reminds us that even he had to ask; even he had to learn that, when it’s possible, there is room for second chances.
Pesach Sheni has been declared a “Day of religious Tolerance” in Israel