This week’s Torah portion, Behaalotecha, describes an almost-forgotten holiday, Pesach Sheni (Numbers 9:6-13). Not quite one year after we left Egypt, God commanded Moses to remind the Israelites to prepare for the holiday of Passover and bring the Paschal lamb offering in an appropriate way. However, some Israelites were ritually impure (due to contact with a corpse) and therefore unable to make the offering. Not wanting to lose out on a single mitzvah, they came before Moses and Aaron asking, “Why can’t we do that?” Moses replied, “Hang on and I’ll ask God what to do.” God then instituted Pesach Sheni (Second Passover) for Jews who, for whatever reason, were not permitted to bring their offering to the Temple on the proper date. They were allowed to make their offering one month later, on the 14th of Iyar.
Most folks don’t even know that this minor holiday (it’s not even on many Jewish calendars) exists and is much simpler than Passover. Make the offering and then eat the lamb (with Matzah and Maror) that evening. The Second Passover is a single-day holiday with no requirement to remove Chametz from our homes. What can we learn from Pesach Sheni? God gives us a second chance! Jews who are on a long journey (v’derech rechoka) are specifically mentioned. Talmud Yerushalmi Pes. 9:2 understands this phrase (the root Resh-Chet-Koof means far) as including being spiritually distant from God and the Jewish people. Those of us who are spiritually distant from God and the Jewish people get a second chance. Spiritually, we are never so far from God that we can’t come back. The Talmud cautions us that we cannot intentionally violate Passover thinking that we can make it up a month later.
Passover traditionally lasts eight days and we are supposed to observe it for that long. We cleanse our homes of Chametz (leavening) which, in its puffiness spiritually represents our egos. What about someone who did not or could not celebrate the mitzvah of Passover? Pesach Sheni gives them a way to gain merit by performing another mitzvah. God allows second chances! It’s not about not making mistakes but rather what we do once we realize our error. We can improve ourselves and show that we have learned from our former transgressions. Learning is to be life-long. We must continue to grow and change for the better throughout our lives. In this way, we can remember that, though we are fallible, we are indeed children of God and, like the Israelites, not without inevitable redemption.