Second chances (Daf Yomi Pesachim 80)

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“A communal offering is not divided.”

I never knew growing up that there were two Passovers, which was probably a good thing given how long my grandfather’s seders were. They seemingly went on forever while my grandmother was busy cooking in the kitchen and the aroma of her brisket filled the dining room with promise of a meal that would follow, eventually.

The idea of a second sacrificial Passover ritual – the do-over a month later for the ritually impure – is all about second chances. If I could travel back in time I would return to one of those Passover nights in my grandparents’ home in order to read the Haggadah with my grandfather and taste my grandmother’s brisket and gefilte fish one last time. The challenge with holding a seder on Zoom is that there is no aroma and Passover is all about the aroma.

The discussion from yesterday on communal impurity on Passover is carried over into today’s Daf Yomi. At the heart of the discussion is whether the community or a specific tribe can participate in the first Pesah if there is impurity in their ranks. Rabbi Shimon repeats a solution that we first heard yesterday. He says that if one tribe is impure and all the rest are pure, then the pure tribes perform the Paschal ritual in a state of purity, and the impure ones perform it for themselves in a state of ritual impurity. Simple, right? Of course not! This is the Talmud and wait until we get to the concept of impurity of the deep.

Rabbi Yehuda considers multiple tribes as part of a larger community. We may live in our individual neighborhoods, but we have responsibilities as citizens of our city, states and countries. Rabbi Yehuda says that if one tribe is impure and the rest are pure, all tribes may partake in the Paschal ritual in a state of ritual impurity. We learned yesterday and it is repeated today (and it’s worth repeating), “a communal offering is not divided.”

We are back again discussing the difference of opinion between Rabbis and what to do if a community is evenly divided. A solution is offered as a bridge between the two perspectives: assume that one of the impure among the community was contaminated by a creeping animal. Remember Ulla from the story about Yalta and the broken wine bottles? His solution is to send one of the pure to a distant place, so that the majority of the community can perform the ritual in a state of impurity.

We are introduced to the concept of “ritual impurity of the deep” which the notes in the Koren Talmud tell us involves a grave found in a place where people have no previous knowledge of its existence. This is something not unheard of in America where buildings are constructed unknowingly upon sacred Native American ancestral burial grounds. The construction of a government building in Lower Manhattan unearthed an African burial ground in 1991. The community mobilized in the latter case to preserve the excavated site. In the former case, the community did not succeed in preventing US border walls from blasting through Native American burial grounds

The concept of ritual impurity of the deep is replete with second chances, just as the African burial grounds were able to be preserved (but sadly, so many others have been lost.) The frontplate of the High Priest in the temple was able to allow someone to atone for an offering that unwittingly was completed in a state of impurity, such as one that resulted from coming into contact with a concealed grave.

I have been thinking about second chances since the start of Pesachim Tractate. I know we are told to never look back, but I am someone who always looks back, like Lot’s wife who was warned to not look back when she was fleeing from the destruction of her hometown. This always seemed like a wistful moment to me when she looked back for a moment at the life she was leaving behind. We all know what happened to Lot’s wife; she turned to a calcified pillar of salt.

As we head toward a full year of lockdown, the “looking back” has become more intense, and since it has been impossible to travel in the present, I have been living in moments of the past. The photos from my Facebook feed come up on a regular basis as a reminder of past trips. I have noticed that many of my friend’s Facebook feeds include old vacation photos as reminders of the lives they once lived.

When the world opens up again, I will consider it a second chance to be grateful for every new experience. First on the list is a visit to Santa Fe where the aroma of pinon and juniper fill the air and the opera house opens upon the Sangre de Cristo and Jemez mountain ranges. I saw Rossini’s La donna del Algo there in 2013, and it was a magical evening under the stars and low-hung New Mexico moon. I could envision the Scottish Highlands in the mountain range behind the stage and smell within the air thick with the scent of juniper, a hint of heather.

After being locked up for a year, I dream of a summer in Santa Fe. It is a land of infinite mesas that seem to fall off the edge of the earth. It is a place of second chances.

About the Author
Penny Cagan was born in New Jersey and has lived in New York City since 1980. She has published two books of poems called “City Poems “ and “And Today I am Happy." She is employed as a risk manager and continues to write poetry. More information on Penny can be found at
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