What kind of second chance is Pesach Sheni?

The Second Passover Offering: What kind of a second chance does it represent?

Rabbi Avraham Gordimer

Judaism Shiloh
Rabbi Avraham Gordimer

The mitzvah of Pesach Sheni, introduced in our parshah, raises a few questions.


Firstly, there is no other mitzvah (commandment) which the Torah provides a second chance to fulfill in the event that one did not perform the mitzvah in its required time. If a person misses Keri’at Shema (Recitation of the Shema), Teki’at Shofar (Blowing the Shofar), Achilat Matzah (Eating Matzah), or any other mitzvah within its appointed period, there is no opportunity to make it up later. What is it about the mitzvah of Korban Pesach, the Pesach Sacrifice, that is different, such that the Torah provides an opportunity - actually, an obligation - to make it up if missed?


Additionally, the mitzvah of Pesach Sheni appears in the Torah immediately subsequent to the investiture and assignment of the Levi’im (Levites) for Mishkan (Tabernacle) service, and immediately prior to the Torah’s breathtaking description of the Mishkan’s trek through the Midbar (Desert), depicting the pillars of cloud and fire leading the way, which signaled God’s command to travel and encamp. Although the parshah could not commence with the topic of Pesach, as explained by Rashi (on Bamidba/Numbers 9:1), why does it appear specifically between the texts regarding Mishkan service of the Levi'im and the Mishkan’s travels? In other words, is there any specific connection between Korban Pesach and the Mishkan?  


Although Keri’at Shema, Teki’at Shofar and many other mitzvot bear foundational messages of emunah (faith) and commitment to God, Korban Pesach is different. Korban Pesach is (almost) like no other mitzvah, for it constitutes an actual Brit, a covenant, with God. It was in the merit of Korban Pesach that God redeemed us from Mitzrayim (Egypt), and Korban Pesach represents God’s choosing us as a nation and bringing us near to Him for His avodah (service). Korban Pesach was literally our induction as the Am Ha-Nivchar, the Chosen Nation.


There is one other, similar mitzvah, which, as Chazal (the Sages) tell us, was also necessary as a merit to depart Mitzyarim on Pesach night (and which, exactly like Korban Pesach, incurs the punishment of Karet (Excision) for intentional failure to perform it): Brit Milah (circumcision). Parallel to Korban Pesach, which is a national covenant with God, is Brit Milah a personal covenant with God. Brit Milah thus shares several identical aspects with Korban Pesach.

So crucial is the experience of Korban Pesach that Chazal (as cited by Rashi on Bamidbar 9:14) entertained (but rejected) the suggestion that a ger, a convert, might need to bring a Korban Pesach as soon as he converts – for a ger must establish a covenant with God, as manifest through the requirement for him to perform Brit Milah, and Korban Pesach goes in tandem with Brit Milah as part of one’s covenant with God. Brit Milah and Korban Pesach are almost two sides of the same coin; Brit Milah represents the personal covenant, while Korban Pesach represents the national covenant.


While it is true that by offering Korban Pesach every year, one again commits to the national covenant with God, there is much, much more going on here. 

The Pesach Seder, of which Korban Pesach is the centerpiece, is not a mere occasion to recall events of thousands of years ago, or to perform mitzvot of recollection. On the contrary, the Seder is a metaphysical reenactment and a reexperiencing of Yetzi'at Mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt. As the Rambam writes in his Haggadah text, "In every generation one must view himself as if he went forth from Mitzrayim". And in all Haggadah texts, we continue, "For not only did He redeem our ancestors, but He redeemed us as well."

Pesach night is a Lail Shimurim - a Guarded Night - and this status pertains today and forever, as God extends a special veil of protection over the Seder night every year. According to some later opinions, Eliyahu Ha-Navi himself comes to every Seder. On Pesach night does God literally outstretch His Presence over us and endow us with a spirit of redemption. 

In short, Korban Pesach, which is the core and the heart of Seder night, is associated with a palpable reenactment and reexperiencing of the Geulah (Redemption), of being welcomed into God's open arms and becoming party to His covenant with our nation. It is this extremely unique, live quality of reenacting and reexperiencing the Geulah and reentering into God's national Brit that mandates a second chance, a Pesach Sheni. Pesach is unlike almost any other mitzvah in terms of these characteristics. Such an event is indispensable, and it is key to understanding what makes Pesach unique as the one mitzvah for which the Torah provides a second opportunity.  

Brit Milah, like Korban Pesach, is not a mere symbolic commitment to a (personal) covenant with God, but it is an actual and live experience of induction into this covenant. Exactly as Korban Pesach is a reenactment of the entry to our national Brit with God on the original Pesach night thousands of years ago, so too is every male who undergoes a Brit Milah literally transformed as he reenacts the Brit of Avrohom Avinu (Abraham our Forefather) almost four millennia back in time. This is signified by the presence of Eliyahu Ha-Navi at every Brit, who metaphysically welcomes and escorts the baby to the Presence of God. Brit Milah is an actual encounter with the Shechinah (Divine Presence). 

We can now understand the adjacency in the Torah of Pesach Sheni to the Mishkan. The Ramban (in his introduction to Parshat Terumah) explains that the Mishkan was a living perpetuation of Matan Torah, the Giving of the Torah at Sinai, insofar as the Mishkan invoked the presence of the Shechinah in our midst and thereby served as the venue for ongoing communication between God and Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses our Teacher), continuing this special communication from Sinai. The Mishkan was not a mere reminder of God's Presence, but, on the contrary, it enabled us to re-experience His Presence as originally encountered at Matan Torah. 

This is precisely the contextual connection between the Mishkan and Korban Pesach, for just like we reexperience the Shechinah through the Mishkan, so to do we reexperience the closeness of God's Presence and reenact our entry into a national bond with God through Korban Pesach.    

Reflective of the live encounters will the Shechinah afforded by Korban Pesach and Brit Milah, may the Shechinah soon again dwell in our midst on a perpetual basis in the rebuilt Beis Ha-Mikdash (Holy Tenple).