Today we celebrate Pesach Sheni, the Second Pesach, and we will do so by munching on some matzah and not reciting Tachanun. But what is the significance of this holiday? I’ve read different approaches to explain the nature of this holiday, some more traditional and some less traditional. Much of what I’ve found came from a blog post by Professor Alan Brill.
Some view this holiday as a day of second chances following sin. As an example, in 1978, the Lubavitcher Rebbe said, “Pesach Sheni gives those who did not offer the Pesach sacrifice the first time the opportunity to do so a month later. Its message is that nothing is irretrievable, that a Jew can always rehabilitate himself. … A Jew is intrinsically good, his soul “a part of God Above.” Sin is completely antithetical to his nature. If he does transgress, it is an aberration that cannot touch his essential self. He may be temporarily unclean, but he is of the loftiest levels. Thus no sin, no omission of service to God, is irretrievable. A Jew can always return to his real identity.”
The Rebbe’s view of Pesach Sheni as the holiday of second chances is based on the story of a group of individuals that was tamei, ritually impure, and therefore unable to bring the Korban Pesach in Nissan. These individuals were given a second chance, an opportunity to correct their mistake by bringing the korban in Iyar. The message is that it’s never too late. God always gives us a second chance.
Some have asserted that Pesach Sheni represents the ideology of inclusion. After all, a group of individuals was excluded from the first Korban Pesach in Nissan and this group wanted to be included as part of the community of those bringing the Korban Pesach. Now, on Pesach Sheni, those who were excluded have the opportunity for inclusion. As an example, the religious LGBTQ community has been hosting Pesach Sheni – Religious Tolerance Day events for ten years. Last year, the Shalom Hartman Institute in Israel hosted a lecture entitled, “Torah, Chuppah and a life of good deeds – also for LGBTQ?”
A third group has asserted that Pesach Sheni represents the value of fighting religious inequality. Indeed, the people who were ritually impure asserted, “lamah nigara,” or “why should we be less? Why shouldn’t we have the same religious opportunities as those who were able to bring the Korban Pesach?” God, in fact, agreed with this claim. In this spirit, JOFA is hosting a women’s seder for Pesach Sheni where, according to their Facebook page, women can “discuss the meanings of Pesach Sheni, liberation from gender stereotypes, and the pros and cons of single gender spaces.”
Now we have three approaches as to the nature of Pesach Sheni: a holiday of second chances after sin, a holiday of inclusion and a holiday fighting religious inequality. However, I don’t think either approach precisely represents the essence of the day. This is certainly a day of second chances, but is it a day of second chances after sin? Did those who approached Moshe requesting another opportunity to offer the Korban Pesach fail to bring it the first time because of some sin? They were performing a mitzvah, either because they carried Yosef’s bones, according to one opinion, or because they carried the bodies of Nadav and Avihu, according to a second opinion, or because they were involved in burying a met mitzvah, according to a third opinion. To say that this is a day of second chances for sinners does not precisely reflect the story underlying this mitzvah.
Does this story represent inclusion, where a group felt excluded from a community and God allowed them to become a part of a community? I think that this is also a bit of a stretch. This is a story of individuals who were exempted from bringing the Korban Pesach because they were tamei, but nowhere does the Torah suggest that these individuals were excluded from the Jewish community.
Is this story about fighting religious inequality? Not really. It’s not about a group of people who were excluded from a particular category of mitzvot. They were technically exempted because they were tamei.
The story underlying of Pesach Sheni is really about FOMO – fear of missing out. Sometimes FOMO is an unhealthy social anxiety, but in the case of Pesach Sheni, the FOMO was legitimate and understandable. A group of individuals was confronted with two religious opportunities and this group participated in one, buying a corpse or carrying the bones of Yosef. These individuals were legally exempt from another important religious opportunity, the Korban Pesach. They did nothing wrong, but they recognized the significance and centrality of the Korban Pesach, the mitzvah that led the Bnei Yisrael to freedom and they cried out “lamah nigara,” or “why should we miss out on a mitzvah that is so central to our very identity?”
Pesach Sheni tells us that perhaps earlier in our lives, we may have made concrete goals of religious growth and greater observance in areas of Torah, tefillah and chesed, but then we weren’t able to realize these goals when we had to worry about earning a living and raising a family. Earning a living and raising a family may be legitimate excuses, but Pesach Sheni tells us that in this instance, instead of simply accepting our situation and the status quo, we are challenged to cry out to God, “lamah nigara?” Pesach Sheni reminds to feel the FOMO of the heroes of this holiday. And Pesach Sheni tells us that just as God rewarded these heroes with a new holiday and a new opportunity, perhaps God will grant our wish, as well, as long as we cry out, “lamah nigara.”