Pesach Shani: The Gift of a Second Chance

This coming week, we will be commemorating a little-known date in the Jewish calendar – the 14th of Iyar (Pesach Sheni – “The Second Pesach”).

The Torah tell us that certain persons who were tamai(ritually impure through contact with the dead) and unable to offer the Korban Pesach came to Moshe Rabbeinu in protest declaring, “Lama Nigarah” – why should we be deprived of the opportunity of bringing the sacrifice? Moshe turned to G-d, communicated their protest and lo and behold, a new halacha was created: those persons who are ritually impure (tamai) or distant from Jerusalem on Pesach (derech rechokah) can bring the sacrifice one month later. To this very day, Pesach Sheni is celebrated as a festive day by the omission of the Tachanun – supplications in the morning prayers and, among some Chassidic groups, by a festive meal.

The lesson of Pesach Sheni is quite profound. The Pesach offering coming in the spring symbolizes renewal or rebirth after a long, dormant period of stagnation (winter). It represents the attainment of a closeness and intimacy with G-d as we become liberated (at least potentially) from all of the destructive, negative impulses and passions that enslave us from within.

And yet…there are those of us, and perhaps most of us, who are unable to fully participate in this Pesach offering. We have not yet fully succeeded in purifying our thoughts and deeds – we are still mired in the doldrums of daily existence. We remain chained to the deadweight of our past (tamai) and feel distant from our Creator (derech rechokah). Spiritual intimacy seems too far away. Unable anymore to feel the loving touch of the Divine, the more devout (to quote Dr. Chaim Soloveitchik) may seek solace in the weight of His yoke. Other may give up the struggle entirely.

To all of us who may be floundering in our spiritual journey, Pesach Sheni sends a message of hope and consolation – no matter how “impure” or “far” we may perceive ourselves as being, G-d always give us the “second chance”.

There is, however, a catch. The Chidushai HaRim (the first Rebbe of Ger) points out that the Jewish people who weretamai had no apparent reasons to be upset. After all, they were anusim – prevented from bringing the korban because of the circumstances beyond their control.

Indeed, according to our Rabbis, they were tamai by virtue of their involvement in a great mitzva , either the removal and burial of Nadav and Avihu (the two sons of Aaron who tragically died on the day of the Mishkan’s dedication) or their carrying of the bones of Joseph. As such, they very easily could have said (as perhaps many of us would have done), “Oh well, I’ll simply bring the Pesach next year”. Had their attitude been one of complacency and resignation, there would in fact have been no second chance.

Hakadosh Boruch Hu would not have afforded them a Pesach Sheni except for the fact that these people exhibited a passionate desire not to rest on their laurels but to go beyond the letter of the law (which technically gave them an exemption), to reach out and serve G-d out of love and choice, and not obligation. Refusing to bow to the inevitable, refusing to be excluded from participation in the covenant, they came and demanded a relationship with G-d. And G-d responded accordingly.

This then is the lesson of Pesach Sheni – no matter how impure a person may feel, no matter how remote he may be from G-d, no matter how many opportunities may have been missed, G-d always give us the second chance. The one condition is: we must want it enough to ask.

The Kotzker Rebbe once posed the rhetorical question, “Where does G-d live?” His answer – “Wherever we let Him in”. As we prepare for the acceptance of the Torah on Shavuot, let us all in our various ways become seekers of the Divine, for as Pesach Sheni teaches us all, if we truly search, G-d will open His doors.