Robin Diamond
Robin Diamond

Deeper Insight Into Pesach Sheni and Lag b’Omer: Rabbi Mendel Kessin

A question arises from a participant in this lecture-call: “Redemption-wise,” does Pesach sheni — the second Passover have the same significance as the first?

The acumen of the question prompts the underlying question: what is the second Passover all about? And because lag b’omer is a few days away at the time of the lecture, the rabbi will address its significance too.

There are two positive commandments whose violation results in karet—excision, a severe consequence in which one is “cut off” and dies before the age of 60. These are the commandments to bring the Pesach sacrifice, and mila—circumcision. In light of this severe consequence, what is the second Passover’s origin and meaning?

The Torah tells us that a group approached Moses asking, “Why should we be denied our portion from this mitzvah–commandment, exempted simply because we were tameh—impure and, therefore, unable to bring the sacrifice? Moses consults G-d Who affords those whose offering was dispensed with a second chance. This is exceptional in light of the peculiarity of the request. What is the heart of their complaint? If we consider this second Passover as a kind of “make-up” mitzvah, like a make-up exam, the only one of its kind, why did G-d “accede to their request” for a do-over?

To answer this, the rabbi asks the more fundamental question: What was the significance of the commandment to bring korbon Pesach–Passover sacrifice in Egypt? There were two tasks that, undertaken, would merit redemption from Egypt. They had to “admit, accept upon themselves….self-sacrifice….reject idol worship.” When they tied up the ram which was considered an Egyptian deity, slaughtered it, and placed its blood on the doorpost, it was considered sacrilege. To be redeemed, they must commit sacrilege “to repudiate the idol worship of the Egyptians, their way of life, their value system.” They had to accept G-d. They had to “become members of the Jewish people, worship G-d, and be dedicated to His allegiance.” This mitzvah was done communally. They had to register themselves for that offering’s slaughter and consumption, “initiating themselves for this club” of G-d’s allegiance-bearers. The rabbi compares this rite with college fraternity initiation practices, “some of them ridiculous, others downright dangerous.” If the applicant complies, it is “indicative of (the) desire to follow their (fraternity’s) rules…. become a full-fledged member.”

Now we can understand the request of the supplicants for a second chance. “Why should we be denied the opportunity to prove our desire to demonstrate our allegiance to G-d?”—-was their petition. “Is it any wonder that G-d agreed with them?” It is about second chances. If one is willing to accept “the yoke of Heaven, there is always a second chance.”

The punishment of excision is a suitable punishment for neglecting or defying this commandment; it is tantamount to rejecting the Jewish mission, the duty to do the tikkun—rectification of Creation. The bringing of the korbon, the declaration of one’s desire to be of, and loyal to, the “tribe of G-d” is critical for every Jew.

This idea is exemplified in the fact that, though living amidst the Egyptians, the Hebrews didn’t dress like them, talk like them or adopt their names. These identifiers: language, dress, and moniker, these transmitters of culture, were not imitated though, in other ways, the Jews “went astray.”

There are only two Jews whose yahrzeits—commemoration of their deaths are honored by tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Jews. What is it about these two individuals that their yahrzeit is commemorated as they are, and what is it about those dates? “Somehow we get the feeling that they are tied to the Redemption.” Yud alef Cheshvan—11th day of the month of Cheshvan is the yahrzeit of Rachel imeinu—our mother. Yud ches Iyar—18th day of the month of Iyar (which is also the 33rd day in the counting of the omer leading up to Shavuoth) is the yahrzeit of Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai. Both are “messianic opportunities,” meaning the mashiach can come on either of these two days. Though most Jews don’t consciously understand why this is, there is a “ruach mimorom, a powerful influx of spiritual energy that the Jews pick up,” at these times. The Gemara says that, though not all Jews are prophets, they are b’nei neviim—descendants of prophets. “We have inherited their DNA.”

What are Jews intuiting? The Flood happened after ten generations. Why? Humanity was granted the period of ten generations to rectify the fallen nature of the Creation, the damage done to it, due to the rebellion of primordial Adam. Their failure resulted in that spiritual Light, which was to have permeated a redeemed world, turning instead into a deluge of watery death. This was a measure-for-measure consequence, particularly since water is an analogue for messianic light. From the pit of corruption at the 49th level of defilement, they were destroyed. “The program was terminated.”

Torah verses tell us that the water poured forth from both the “windows of Heaven” and the “tehom—abyss” because the chochma of mashiach—the wisdom of the messiah, links knowledge of the upper spiritual worlds, the entirety of reality, to all earthly wisdom i.e. science. It is the revelation that everything that transpires on earth has its counterpart in the incorporeal realms. “It was from top and bottom.”

When did this Flood happen? It was to have happened on the 11th of Cheshvan but didn’t until the 17th-18th of Cheshvan. The 11th of Cheshvan is 41 days from the inception of Creation. We know that the number “40” represents development, the time it takes for something to come to fruition in some respect. So “41” marks that which is “fully developed.” The delay was due to the death of Metzushelach/Methuselah. G-d waited seven days until the mourning period was over.

The 11th Is Cheshvan, “a Redemption day” was the date of Rachel’s death, she who the Jewish people affectionately refer to as “Rachel imeinu—our mother, Rachel.” This indicates that she is, in some way, connected to the Redemption. There is a midrash—exegetic analysis that says that when the Jews were exiled to Babylon after the destruction of the Second Temple, an exile that Nebuchadnezzar hoped would divorce the Jews from their faith, they passed, while enroute to Babylon, Rachel’s kever—burial site. There, they halted their journey to pray that they should be redeemed. Rachel’s soul was aroused to prayer on their behalf without which their exile would have been more protracted and they would not have returned to a life of self-governance and autonomy when they did. The midrash points out that all the towering souls, the greatest in Jewish history, had supplicated likewise on the nation’s behalf but to no avail. But when Rachel pleaded, G-d responded. This is the basis of the verses in the prophetic testimony of Yirmiyahu which says, “Rachel weeps for her children” and G-d says that He will diminish her tears.

Why did G-d listen to her pleas and not those of the others? The others based their pleas on the amelioration of the din—judgement against the nation, a judgment that deserved to stand. The judgement dictated that they be in exile permanently. Rachel’s appeal, however, was based on the merit of her self-sacrificing deed. When Jacob sought to marry her, he conspired with her to give her signs to identify her, as opposed to her elder sister Leah, as the rightful bride under the wedding canopy. To spare her sister the humiliation and grief of witnessing her, the younger sister getting married first, she shared these determinant signs with Leah, allowing Leah to replace her. This tremendous compassion for her sister, and the danger she undertook risking her status as a future “mother” of Israel, were deemed meritorious by G-d. She fulfilled the commandment to love one’s brother as oneself and also countervailed justice that reckoned her the rightful bride. She pleaded for G-d to do likewise, to eschew justice in favor of compassion. The result was that a prolonged exile was abbreviated to endure only 70 years. Each decade of that 70 years was to be a portion of the timetable for the Jews to rectify each of seven sefirot—Divine energies that create realities.

Had Rachel not enabled her sister to marry Jacob, Leah would have been without recourse to fulfill her destiny, providing progeny for the nation’s future. She was to have married Esav, himself a patriarch—or was to have been– whose “job” as “man of the field” was to live in the world and resist its temptations. To do so was to reclaim the holy sparks lost to satanic forces. Leah would have been deprived of her matriarchal role to mother six of the twelve tribes. Jacob, having taken over Esav’s misson, married Esav’s intended, Leah. A man’s spiritual mission includes, necessarily, his partner. Rachel’s contribution enabled Jacob to fulfill his spiritual mission, part of which was inherited from Esav having abrogated his.

For all these reasons, Rachel has always been associated with the redemption of Israel. At the End of Time, she does the same, tries to mitigate the exile. This function is indicated by the date of her death, the same day that the messianic Light was to have been conveyed to the world in the Flood. Somehow, Rachel’s distinct role is something the Jewish people “feel in their bones.”

The rabbi offers an aside here, that scientists have long assumed that acquired characteristics cannot be inherited. But they’ve come to realize that it is untrue, that acquired characteristics can be “bequeathed” to descendants. This is called “epigenetics.”

There is an argument between Rebbe Yoshua and Rebbe Eliezer as to the date of Creation and this impacts the reckoning of the dates for their significance as being particularly potent signifiers of messianic potential.

Rebbe Eliezer says that Creation began on 25thof Elul, six days before the creation of Man on the 1st of Tishrei. According to this, the Flood should have happened on the 11th of Cheshvan though it happened on 18th of Cheshvan due to the death of Methuselah, as stated before.

Rebbe Yoshua holds that Creation commenced on 25th of Adar which dates Mankind’s creation on the 1st of Nisan. Based on this assertion, the Flood happened on 18th of Iyar which is lag b’omer—the 33rd day of the omer count.

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s death on lag b’omer, the day of the Flood, as calculated by Rebbe Yoshua, is significant in that the Flood translates here to the analogue of Kabbalah, that knowledge he introduced considered the “surface ohr rishon,” the introduction of the messianic Light.

Another link to lag b’omer as a day affiliated with messianic power is that for five weeks, from the second day of Passover when the omer counting begins, until lag b’omer, the students of Rabbi Akiva died. Why? The cause is thought to be that they didn’t give each other proper honor. This reasoning is fine-tuned to mean, according to The Maharsha and the Chofetz Chaim, that they spoke loshon ha’ra—harmful speech, a sin which prevents the entry of the messiah. They stopped dying on lag b’omer. The deaths of 24,000 students was catastrophic for the Jewish people who have been denied the novel insights into Torah they might have given over. The loss of transmission of Torah was a great loss borne by Rabbi Akiva himself, a man who dedicated his life to this objective. Fortunately, he was able to fortify himself and continue with five students who carried on regardless.

Jews have the “inherited intuitive ability” to realize that these two days—the day of Mother Rachel’s and Rebbe bar Yochai’s death—are days for flocking to Rachel’s tomb in Bethlehem and Rebbe bar Yochai’s tomb in Meron. Also interesting is that Pesach sheini and lag b’omer occur in the same week.

This connection between the messianic Light and lag b’omer is why bonfires are lit. The fires are representations of that Light. We don’t light small yahrzeit candles; we light bonfires.

The rabbi predicts that now, so close to the revelation of mashiach, the crowds streaming to these graves will be overwhelming. Beyond even the premonition of redemption, everyone realizes that we have “had enough” and that G-d must have compassion, mercy. The “insanity,” the hallmark characteristic of the world today, must end. This is more than degradation. It is total barbarity. Jews want G-d to come back. The hope is that it will not be a flood of rain that comes down but the messianic Light.

If not on lag b’omer, the alternate great day could be the 11th of Cheshvan, a month that has no other Jewish commemorative occasion, perhaps because it is the greatest day in the history of the world—if not the universe—when G-d re-enters His Creation and the messianic process truly begins.

“Amen” is echoed among the lecture participants.

(The following Q&A is recorded not with exact quotations but with abbreviated and approximate language):

Participant: When the geula–Redemption begins, will it be a physical or spiritual event, perhaps like a “switch” that gets turned on?

Rabbi: I don’t know exactly but I suspect it would be appropriate nor surprising if something spectacular happens. Something that spectacular would be something “lifted in consciousness.” My special relationship with that day, the 11th of Cheshvan, is that it’s my birthday. And it is also Erev Shabbos, the time to prepare for Shabbos, that day of the week when Jews get a taste of a higher consciousness.

Apparently, the Israeli government sees the importance of opening up Meron to pilgrimages to bar Yochai’s kever. Despite Covid restrictions, we may witness the greatest gathering of Jews in the history of Israel this lag b’omer. I would not be surprised. Covid is only one of the sufferings that precedes the appearance of mashiach and the report that its prevalence is receding is a green light. I read that no deaths have recently occurred.

Participant: Women’s groups are condemning the United Nations because it appointed Iran to the women’s human rights panel. Did you see that?

Rabbi: The UN are not even embarrassed at their own hypocrisy!

Participant: A wife informed on her husband to the police because he forbade his 7-year-old son from wearing dresses and calling himself a girl.

Rabbi: Here is the insanity of it: even if you felt that someone has the right to choose one’s gender, a young child has no ability to anticipate what the repercussions of his choices could be. The father has an obligation to direct his child to live the proper way. So, there are two violations: the child being given unbridled freedom and the halting of a father’s paternal responsibility to raise his child properly. We are watching the end of civilization.

Participant: The murderer of Sarah Halimi has been exonerated.

Rabbi: Even with the excuse that he was acting under the influence of a substance, he killed someone. That is, at least, worthy of a conviction of manslaughter.

Participant: He beat her up for an hour and then threw her off the balcony.

Rabbi: But that’s France. You are watching insanity take over mankind. This is, in many ways, good news. Sin, within the context of civilization is bad but within bounds. But when the world turns insane, it’s the dissolution of mankind. That is what happened at the Flood. The decree to destroy the world through the Flood was due to such dissolution of the perpetuation of mankind. The writing of a marriage contract between two men, or a person and an animal, is the institutional legitimization of debauchery and depravity. It is uncivilized and G-d will not tolerate it. We are watching the End and that is good news—-finally, deterioration inducing G-d to take action either by destroying the world or redeeming it.

About the Author
Robin is a retired Language Arts high school teacher who taught in the Los Angeles Unified District for 25 years. After retiring in 2010, she hurriedly made aliyah in 2011.
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