It’s a gem of a holiday marked by almost no one, in no special way at all. Pesach Sheni marks the day in Temple times when those who weren’t able to bring the Pesach sacrifice, because of impurity or a badly organized travel scheduled, got what Israelis call ‘Moed Bet’- a second chance. Lately, there is a movement to infuse the day with deeper contemporary meaning by highlighting its message of pluralism and tolerance, but traditionally, it meant no more than omitting the tachanun prayer and perhaps eating some matzah. The fact that it gets even that much attention, though, highlights the Jewish love affair with the idea of ‘second chances’.

The idea of second chances is central to chapter 4 of Vayikra, which focuses on the chatat offering. Chatat is often translated as ‘sin’, but a translation that better captures the Hebrew is ‘mistake’. The term’s original context is archery, and it means to miss the mark. That’s the fundamental conception of sin, and its first presentation in the context of sacrifices- an accidental miss, with the korban offering the mechanism for a second chance, to make up for your error.

This message of second chances becomes more powerful when we notice how this chapter resonates with a very serious ‘mistake’ the Jewish people made- the sin of the golden calf. Although it seems that it is about to speak of an individual, chapter 4 changes gears and suddenly speaks of the anointed priest making a mistake, and then of the entire congregation making an error, and each one’s error implicates the other. The echoes of Aharon and the people’s sin is intensified by the use of a cow for the sacrifice, rather than the goat used for other chatat offerings. That terrible sin, for which the entire people deserved destruction, forced the creation of a relationship with God which allows for second chances. It’s a relationship of grace which is merciful in judgment, framing sin as unintentional mistake.

While munching our matzah, we can think about whom in our own life we could give the gift of mercy in judgment, which sins, of our spouses, our children, our loved ones, ourselves, we can reframe as unfortunate mistakes, and to whom we might offer the gift of a second chance

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