Pesach Sheni: The Holiday of Second Chances
On Passover the entire nation of Israel, men, women, and children, rich and poor, are required to bring the korban Pesach - Passover offering, without exception. This all-encompassing, no-exceptions-allowed commandment, is both a reflection of, and a recommitment to the complete and pure faith expressed by the Israelites while they were still slaves in Egypt. For them, performing the korban Pesach meant risking their lives. For their trust in G-d they were rewarded with liberation from Egypt and an eternal covenant of Torah. In this light we can understand that the requirement to make the Passover offering in the Temple courtyard on the appointed time, (the 14th day of Nissan), is so great that the result of willfully neglecting to do so is caret - the cutting off of the individual from the Divine source of life.
So what happens in the case of an unfortunate soul who is simply unable to bring the offering in time? Who was prevented by circumstances beyond his control? Certain men asked this question of Moses in the desert, concerning the very first Pesach that would take place outside of Egypt, at the outset of the second year in the wilderness. The Torah records the exchange:
"There were, however, some men who had come in contact with the dead, and were therefore ritually unclean, so that they could not prepare the Passover offering on that day. During the course of that day, they approached Moses and Aaron. 'We are ritually unclean as a result of contact with the dead,' the men said to [Moses]. 'But why should we lose out and not be able to present God's offering at the right time, along with the other Israelites?' 'Wait here,' replied Moses. 'I will hear what orders God gives regarding your case.' God spoke to Moses, telling him to speak to the Israelites, saying: If any person is ritually unclean from contact with the dead, or is on a distant journey, whether among you [now] or in future generations, he shall still have the opportunity to prepare God's Passover offering. He shall prepare it on the afternoon of the 14th of the second month, and shall eat it with matzahs and bitter herbs. He shall not leave any of it over until morning, and not break any bone in it. He shall thus prepare it according to all the rules of the [regular] Passover offering. However, if a man is ritually clean, and not on a distant journey, and he neglects to prepare the Passover offering, that person shall be cut off [spiritually] from his people. He shall bear his guilt for not offering God's sacrifice at the prescribed time." (Numbers 9:6-13)
Simply put, if a person was prevented from bringing the Passover offering on the 14th day of Nissan by events beyond his control, he is given a second chance. Yet the Torah does not make allowances for second chances concerning the other Divine commandments. Why now? Can it be that the Master of the Universe, the Holy One, blessed be He, makes exceptions? Of course He does. In fact, each and every one of us is exceptional in G-d's eyes. And as G-d sees us, so should we see ourselves.
One year earlier, on the fourteenth day of the month of Iyar (second Passover), the evil Amalek, (may his name be blotted from our memory), saw this as well. This was the very day that evil nation chose to attack the people of Israel. And upon whom did they choose to pounce? The weak, the weary, the stragglers behind. Those who had begun to question whether they had it in them; whether they had what it takes to be a free people. For Amalek's plan was to embitter our lives with self-doubt, to slam the door shut on second chances. And what better moment to try and plunge us into gnawing doubt than on this day, the day of "second chances." Amalek saw that the only way to banish the presence of G-d from this world was to make people feel unworthy and incapable of drawing close to Hashem, through the fulfilling of His mitzvot. For if we deem ourselves as failures, as has-beens, we have lost the battle. So Moses raised his arms heavenward, and the children of Israel thought of their Father in heaven, their spirits were renewed, and the tide of battle was turned. But the struggle against Amalek could not have been won, if G-d Himself hadn't also "upped the ante": G-d declared that on this very day the children of Israel would celebrate their national "second chance" day. For in the knowledge that we are deserving of a second chance to overcome our limitations, our shortcomings, be they self-inflicted or imposed upon us by circumstances beyond our control, we gain the strength to win the day. For we are all exceptional, and all deserving of a second chance.
It is this same battle against the Amalek of self-doubt that is being waged today in Israel, and nowhere is this more clearly visible than on the small parcel of land known as Mount Moriah: the Temple Mount. Are we worthy of a second chance, or not? Our prophets say so. Our sages say so. What do we say? Who are we listening to? To the Master of the Universe, or to the fast-talking salesmen of self-doubt, the Amaleks among us?
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss Pesach Sheni - 2nd Passover - the unique festival of second chances. They continue to explore G-d's infinite love for Israel, as expresses in the book of Vayikra - Leviticus - and the special instruction given to the Kohen Gadol - High Priest - to keep himself removed from the presence of death, as his sacred task is to represent Israel in the place of eternal life - the Holy Temple.