If you google “Pesach Sheni” (literally – 2nd Passover) you’ll find beautiful commentaries about “it’s never too late”, and yet, is it? Pesach Sheni addresses people who missed the 1st Pesach. When it was time to bring the Pascal offering, they were unavailable. They were either “ritually impure through contact with a dead body, or away on a distant journey” (Numbers 9:1-12). It is not obvious to Moses what to do about them, and upon his question, G-d tells him that these people can prepare the offering a month later, on the next full moon, which is today.
We find on Chabbad website:
“The eternal significance of the Second Passover, says the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (1880-1950), is that it is never too late to rectify a past failing. Even if a person has failed to fulfill a certain aspect of his or her mission in life because s/he has been “contaminated by death” (i.e., in a state of disconnection from the divine source of life) or “on a distant road” from his people and G d, there is always a Second Passover in which s/he can make good on what s/he has missed out. The Second Passover thus represents the power of teshuvah — the power of return. Teshuvah is commonly translated as repentance, but it is much more than turning a new leaf and achieving forgiveness for past sins. It is the power to go back in time and redefine the past”…
But for me, it’s my father’s yahrzeit (anniversary of his death). And there is nothing like a yahrzeit to remind us that try as we might, there is not “always” a second chance. In fact, the whole teaching seems to highlight exactly the opposite: if there is “always” a second chance. There would have been no need to ask Moses about it; and he would not have needed to check with G-d before replying. Further: there is no 2nd any other holiday. If you missed Yom Kippur, that’s just too bad for you. It will come back next year; hang in.
So the fact is, the people asking knew as Moses himself knew, as I am painfully reminded today, that 2nd chances are rare and hard to come by; that while we pray and hope for them, they can’t always be counted on.
There is a custom to eat matzah today, just like on Passover and some see it as a (very minor holiday, but for me it’s a day to light a candle and rummage through old boxes. I fish out the Berlin newspaper clip from 1928 where he is featured as a young Mozart; There are photos of him hiking with his brothers; traveling with his father, after whom I was later named; and photos with his mom, all elegant and sharp.
I look at his school portrait from the early 1930’s. At 13 years old, properly dressed, hair combed, what did he know about how life is about to change? Was it a last photo, or just another day, perhaps end of school year?
There are photos from his wedding to my mom, and from their honeymoon – a photographer on the Acropolis catches them climbing up, smiling, looking at each other lovingly. And then with little me on his lap, both of us playing the old piano, a love for music that seeps through the generations on to his grandchildren. I see him with us at the beach: a big colorful beach-ball; a sandy apple; the sunlight on the horizon. And the photos in my head, the moments that no camera caught: hand in hand to the synagogue on Friday afternoon; my mom handing him his cane while I skip around in a pretty little dress, all excited. Did he already know his days were numbered?
I find diplomas from his learning and try to piece it together: did he actually go to London for his matriculation, law and accounting exams in the early 1940’s, or did the British Mandate allow for exams in pre-Israel Palestine? There is his photo in the long dark robe; proud, shaking hands, young, successful, big smile, the whole world waiting; a world full of 1st and 2nd chances.
And an envelope my mom saved from the last weeks of his life, no longer able to speak as his body gives in to the horrors of ALS; thin rice paper almost etched through, with his now shaky, block-lettered handwriting, reverting back to his childhood German: get the family; don’t go.
My brother and I are both older now than he’ll ever be but forever he remains our father and we, his children. We miss him dearly. May his memory be for a blessing.