After three months of dealing with technical and ritual aspects Halacha, the Torah returns in this week’s portion to the more legendary style of Genesis and the beginning of Exodus. The portion of “Behaalotcha” includes the stories of the manna, Eldad and Medad, and the famous story of the Cushite woman that Moses had married.
My intention, however, is to return to an aspect of worship. Our portion raises the issue of the Pesach Sheni (The Second Passover). A group of Jews went to Moses and Aharon and asked them for a second opportunity to offer the Passover lamb. They knew that it was forbidden to prepare the offering while impure, and asked for permission to do so after they had been purified.
And they said to Moses and Aharon:
Impure though we are by reason of a corpse, why must we be debarred from presenting the Lord’s offering at its set time with the rest of the Israelites? (Numbers 9, 7)
There are virtually no examples or precedents in Halacha for anything like this. (Perhaps one could compare this to the “Tefillat Tashlumim” as regards the rules of prayer). But this case is completely different. The second opportunity they wanted was not provided for with the Giving of the Law. There was only one Passover! This second chance was later granted simply because a group of Jews came and asked “why must we be debarred?”. They demanded another opportunity to offer this festival sacrifice!
Almost no mention is made today, in any Jewish calendar, of this festival of the second Passover. True, it appears in all the calendars. But nothing very special is done on this date. We know not to say Tachanun on this date. There is also a popular custom among Hasidic communities to eat Matzah on the Pesach Sheni. But that is about all…
We do not have any other positive Mitzvah in the Torah which was initiated by the people and not by G-d. Even though they were absolved from performing the Mitzvah, they demanded a second opportunity, another chance. On this occasion, at least, the children of Israel reached a very high level of piety and devoutness.
Many things can be said about this desert generation. They were ingrates. They had a short memory. But here, on the issue of the second Passover, they proved that they were also virtuous. “Why must we be debarred?” they asked, “Why should we forfeit observing a Mitzvah?”.
Perhaps this is why the second Passover, a festival which has virtually disappeared from the Jewish calendar, is actually the most important one of the entire year. It was established by both the initiative and the will of the children of Israel.