“One must blow the dust on the path before taking each step.”
Life is complicated and sometimes we don’t get the important things right the first time. But often we are given second and third chances as we strive to be better or do better the next time around. Our paths are not always paved and often they take us on meandering journeys through dusty dirt roads.
Today’s Daf Yomi portion takes us on such a path as it discusses how those of us that are in mourning or are distance travelers or impure in one sense or another have a chance to do over missed obligations through the concept of a second Pesah.
In a poetic statement, Rav Yehuda quotes Shmuel who once said: “One must blow the dust on the path before taking each step in the beit haperas as he walks through it, in order to see if there is a hidden bone there.” The notes in the Koren Talmud tell is that there are three circumstances that define beit haperas: a field that contains a grave whose location is unknown, a field with a grave that was plowed over, and a field where people would gather to eulogize the dead.
In all these cases there is concern of coming in contact with the bones of the dead, which would have been buried for a period of time before they were moved to a family burial site. We are told that if someone becomes impure due to the potential encounter with hidden bones, they are allowed to participate in the Paschal lamb offering.
But there are other circumstances that may require someone to participate in the second Pesah, as a second chance. These include one who is ritually impure, on a distant journey and an acute mourner. There are even allowances made for the absent-minded who may have forgotten about the first Pesah.
We all know that we can plan and plan and plan, but life happens and sometimes we can just not get it together in time to uphold our commitments on a designated day. What is wonderful about the concept of two Pesahs is the opportunity to have a second chance to uphold those commitments a few weeks later.
There is some divergence of opinion on whether a long-distance traveler, who might have been called away on family business, is required to do over Pesah if an offering has been made on his behalf while he was gone. Rav Nahman says his offering has been accepted and he is good for the year; he does not need to observe a second Pesah. Rav Sheshet disagrees and says he does indeed need to fulfill his obligation by observing the second Pesah.
Rav Nahman cites the Torah which says to have “mercy on one who was on a distant journey” and as a result he has “the option of observing the second Pesah.” Rav Sheshet, who appears to be a letter of the law type of man, remains constant in his opinion that our traveler’s participation in the second Pesah is required.
Regardless of the circumstances – whether the loss of a relative on the day of the first Pesah, a sudden obligation to travel far away, some sort of impurity, or forgetfulness — the Talmud provides the opportunity for a second chance. The image of walking on a dusty path and blowing the debris away before taking each step seems a relevant one for our times.
As we approach a year of living with the pandemic, we have been given an opportunity to look into our heart of hearts and reflect on who we have become. It has been a painful year full of dusty roads and hidden bones, but it has also been an opportunity to look deep within ourselves and consider what our lives will be like in the future.
Will we simply blow off the dust on the road and return to life as we have known it? Or have our lives been profoundly changed forever? I do not think I will ever be the same after living with what felt like every day to be a near-death experience, where every encounter carried with it the possibility of getting infected and potentially very ill.
A friend reminded me recently that the roaring twenties with all its optimism followed the 1918 pandemic and people threw off their masks and embraced the music of the time. I have no doubt that we will dance again when this is over, but it will likely be a different dance from what we have known in the past, because there will always be the memory of these difficult times and the resonance of all those buried skeletons.
(For musical accompaniment to today’s Daf, check out Lucinda William’s “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tUzhodl_rw)