This year, 8th day of Pesach was on Shabbat. On that day, Israel went back to the regular weekly Torah reading, while outside of Israel, we remained with the holiday one more day, and since – one Torah portion behind. That’s how it’s going until the week of August 2!! Every week, in this season of celebrating redemptions, past and present, I get “Torah words” for two different Torah readings, mirroring two different worlds we live in. Ina For this, and other reasons, I opt to write about a holiday coming up next week.
A holiday?? Yes, a Torah holiday; a Torah holiday which doesn’t appear in this week’s (chutz la’aretz) parasha of Emor (Leviticus 21:!-24:23) and the only Torah holiday during the month of Iyar.
Pesach Sheni – literally 2nd Passover – addresses people who missed the 1st Pesach. When it was time to bring the Pascal offering, they were unavailable, either because they were “ritually impure through contact with a dead body, or away on a distant journey” (Numbers 9:1-12). This situation has never come up before, so it is not obvious for Moses what to do. In response to their query, he asks G-d who tells him that these people can prepare the same offering a month later, on the next full moon, the 14th of Iyar, this year coming up this Sunday, May 19.
If you google it, you’ll find some lovely commentaries how the day has come to symbolize how there are always “second chances” and a “power to go back in time and redefine the past”…
Lovely. Except that for me, Pesach Sheni happens to be my father’s yahrzeit (the 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, nor a way to rectify and redefine the past. In fact, the whole teaching seems to highlight exactly the opposite! If there was “always” a second chance, then 1. there would not have been a need to ask Moses about it; 2. there would not have been a need for him to check with G-d Almighty before replying; and 3. We would have had already a Yom Kippur Sheni, Sukkot Sheni, Hanukkah Sheni etc etc.
But…. we don’t.
So the fact is that the people asking and Moses himself, knew very well, as I am painfully reminded each year, that second chances are super rare and hard to come by; that while we pray and hope, beg and bargain for them, rather than an “always”, they are usually not readily available and extremely unlikely; that life should be lived while we can rather than by relying on an “always tomorrow”.
More than anything: by focusing on the “p.c.” message of “second chances” as the core value of this day, we completely miss what it is, what is its place in our tradition, and what does it teach us about our own time!
So what it is? for that, please join me at Beth Jacob Congregation in Oakland, CA this Shabbat 😊