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Judaism: Pesach Sheni-Taking Charge

Published: Monday, April 26, 2010 11:24 PM


This Wednesday, nestled right in between Israel's Independence Day (Yom Ha'atzmaut) and Lag BaOmer on the Jewish calendar, is a 'minor' holiday of Biblical origin, Pesach Sheni - the "Second" Pesach.

To be honest, Pesach Sheni hardly gets any recognition. Aside from not saying Tachanun (the supplication prayer
Pesach Sheni isn't only about getting a second chance, it's about initiating.
said on regular days, but not on festive ones) and the tradition to eat a little Matzah on Pesach Sheni, it hardly seems to warrant any (second) thought. But maybe there is more to Pesach Sheni than meets the eye.

The source for Pesach Sheni can be found in Chapter 9 of the book of Numbers. Moshe announced that the Passover sacrifice (Korban Pesach) may only be eaten by people who are ritually pure. One who was ritually unclean, ta'mai, was not allowed to bring and partake of the Paschal Offering.

Then we read that a group of people approached Moshe and Aharon at the time the first offering was brought after the exodus. They, because of the fact they were ritually unclean from contact with a corpse, were not able to bring the offering. This group asked Moshe and Aharon "Why are we being prevented to bring the offering with the rest of Israel, in the proper time?' The response from Moshe was, "Stand and hear what G-d has commanded you." Then, the Torah relates the laws concerning Pesach Sheni, an opportunity for all those who missed bringing the Korban Pesach at the proper time through no fault of their own, to bring this offering, on the 14th of Iyar, a full month later and hence fulfill this special commandment.

In Chassidic philosophy, especially as expounded upon by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, Pesach Sheni is about second chances, since the original Pesach Sheni was in response to people who had been unable to be included in the Pesach observance and were granted another opportunity exactly one full moon after the first Pesach.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains how another story in the book of Numbers, that of the daughters of Tzelofchad, is similar to the institution of Pesach Sheni.  In that episode, five sisters came with a claim to the leaders of their generation explaining that their father died, leaving no male heir, and the portion of the Land that should be given to their branch of the family would consequently be given to another branch. These women were basically saying, "We care so much, why should we lose?"

According to G-d's response, Moshe changes the system accordingly. By including this whole exchange as part of the Divine Scripture, the Torah makes these women into heroines. The same can be said about the Jews who did not want to miss the opportunity to sacrifice the Paschal Lamb. In both cases the Jews were saying, "This is so important to us, why should we lose out?" In both situations G-d on high responded to a claim made from below! (This is in contrast to Moses teaching G-d's commands - the emphasis on receiving rather than initiating.)

Pesach Sheni isn't only about getting a second chance, it's about initiating. The Torah tells us not to sit passively while negative things go on around us. We can transform our environments. More importantly, it teaches of us if we take the initiative God will help us achieve our goal.

One might think that today we are too far removed from those Biblical days. Even if I take initiative and have the strongest desires and purest motives and am sure I am in the right and that I really deserve what I am asking for, what guarantee do I have that God will follow through?

Well, I'm no expert, but I believe I can come up with at least one modern example. Think about the special day we celebrate just one week before Pesach Sheni, Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israel's Independence Day. Those who support the State of Israel, celebrate the day in commemoration of an event that took place one Friday afternoon 62 years ago in Tel Aviv.

On the 5th of Iyar, 5708, May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion declared Israel a State against the advice of the Americans and other foreign powers. Even though the threat of war and annihilation from the surrounding Arab States hung in the air, Ben-Gurion was still prepared to announce the beginning of the new State. Because he did not sit and wait, Jewish history was forever changed. And here we sit, 62 years later, with a miraculously burgeoning Jewish State. If that's not 'taking initiative', I don't know what is.

 

 

 

 

 

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