Today is a Jewish holiday of which you may never have heard. Today’s Hebrew date is the 14th of Iyyar which is Pesach Sheni or the “Second Passover.” If you have never heard of it, don’t worry too much as there are no observances for the day other than to skip the tahanun prayer during services. Some people have a custom to eat a piece of matzah as well, though this is not required, and there are some Chasidic groups which hold a sort of seder on this day, which is certainly not required. But what is Pesach Sheni all about?
In the Torah reading for the sixth day of Pesach, Numbers 9:1-14, the Israelites observe Pesach for the first time since leaving Egypt. As we know, in order to eat the Pesach sacrifice one needs to be ritually pure; but a number of men who were impure because they had recently come into contact with a corpse complain to Moses that it isn’t fair for them to miss Passover because of this. (The text doesn’t explicitly say so, but the underlying assumption is that burying the deceased is a mitzvah and it seems unreasonable that fulfilling a mitzvah should lead to being excluded from this important communal and family celebration.)
This is one of a few cases in the Torah where Moses doesn’t know what the law is or should be, so he has the men stand by while he consults God. The result is the institution of Pesach Sheni, the Second Passover. Anyone who is ritually impure or on a long journey during Passover can “make up” the missed observance a month later. But it is further specified that this makeup opportunity applies only in the case of impurity or a journey, not to cases of simple negligence.
On a pure legal basis this doesn’t apply to us today, since we don’t sacrifice the Paschal lamb and in the absence of the Temple rituals everyone is ritually impure at any rate. But later commentators have taken the phrase “on a journey” which in Hebrew is b’derech rechoka to imply a much larger lesson. B’derech rechoka means someone who is on a path which is very distant. In contemporary Jewish life, many of us have spent time on a path which is very distant from Torah and mitzvot; but Pesach Sheni shows that God always gives us another chance to make up what we have missed.
Some other reminders:
As of one week from today, Monday evening, May 3, we will be saying Mincha (the afternoon service) as well as Ma’ariv (the evening service) at daily minyan. This means that meetings and classes scheduled for right after minyan will begin at around 8:15 rather than 8 pm. We are starting this on Monday May 3 as there is no Kehilat Shalom minyan Sunday evening, May 2, so that everyone may participate in the JTS Day of Learning.
Meet the New Chancellor of JTS: The Jewish Theological Seminary is inviting DC-area congregations to a meeting with Dr. Shuly Rubin Schwartz, the new Chancellor. This online meeting will take place on Wednesday, May 12, from 7 to 8:15 pm. For more information and to register, go to https://inspired.jtsa.edu/event/where-does-the-jewish-future-begin-washington-dc/e335810
Plans for Shavuot: Once again the worldwide Conservative Movement will be sponsoring an online Tikkun (Torah study session) for Shavuot. This year it will be 24 hours long to accommodate Jews in different countries and time zones and those who do not use electronics on Shabbat or holidays. The Tikkun will take place from noon EDT on Sunday, May 16 through noon EDT on Monday, May 17. We are an institutional co-sponsor of this program and we will not have our own Kehilat Shalom Tikkun. While you can participate without registration (and I will share the link or links as they become available), if you pre register here you will be sent direct updates including the schedule, source sheets, and links.
As always, if you need to talk or I can do anything for you, please contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone at 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office as at the moment I continue to work mostly from home, although having been vaccinated I am available for in-person meetings in my synagogue office by request.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian