Beha’alotcha-Pesach II

In this week’s portion, the Jews received the mitzvah of Pesach Sheni – the “second Pesach.”  Those Jews who happened to be spiritually impure or too far away and were therefore unable to bring the initial Pesach offering in the month of Nissan asked of Moshe Rabeinu what could be done about it.  Moshe inquired, and the answer from God was that those Jews could bring an offering one month later, on the fourteenth of Iyar.

If we try to conceptualize this mitzvah, we can conjure up three possibilities (discussed by R’ Avraham, son of the Rambam).  First, Pesach sheni may be an independent festival that was established for all Jews.  Second, it may not be independent at all, but merely “makeup” for those Jews who missed the first Pesach during the month of Nissan.  And third, we might look at Pesach sheni as an opportunity to fix or rectify something that should have done during the first Pesach.

Looking into this matter, we find in the Rambam’s Sefer Hamitzvoth (“Book of Mitzvoth”) that Pesach sheni is an independent festival.  The Rambam says (in accordance with Rebi, in Pesachim 93A) that Pesach Sheni “is a festival in its own right,” as suggested in the first possibility above.  Nevertheless, only one who failed to bring the Pascal offering in Nissan is obligated to bring it on Pesach sheni, according to the Rambam.  And if so, the question is, “How is Pesach sheni” an independent holiday?

One way to answer this question is to look at the other details of the mitzvah.  Although on the first Pesach we are forbidden to possess any leavened bread (chometz), on Pesach sheni we may possess both matzah and chometz at one and the same time.  Furthermore, although Pesach rishon extends for seven or eight days, during which no bread may be eaten but matzah is permitted, Pesach sheni lasts for only one day, during which we may eat from the Pascal offering together with both matzah and bread.

The way to understand this is the following:  With most mitzvoth, we find dinim, or particular details and accompany the mitzvah and tell us exactly how to fulfill the commandment in time and place.  Regarding Pesach, the dinim apply during Pesach rishon, when we do the commandment (bringing the Pascal offering) “on time.”  But, the dinim do not apply on Pesach sheni, when we do not perform the mitzvah “on time.”  In such a case, the Torah does not tell us, “forget about it, you lost your chance.”  The Torah does give us another opportunity, but without the embellishments of all the dinim, or specific details that otherwise apply.  From this, we derive the concept that “it is never too late” – it is always possible to rectify the past.

In a sense, this is the difference between a tzaddik – one who has followed the laws of Torah for his entire life and has not strayed – and a ba’al teshuva – one who has either never followed Torah or who has strayed from the path that Torah designated.  The tzaddik follows all the mitzvoth with all of their details, and therefore has no need for “remedial” measures.  Since he is always careful, he fulfills the initial commandment to bring the offering during Nissan.  However, the ba’al teshuva is one who has strayed, who has lost the path (or never found it) and who wants to return.  For him, the details are less important – he merely wants to get back on the path, as simply and quickly as possible.

It is possibly for this reason that Pesach sheni was not given to us as a simple command from above, from God to man.  Rather, it was given as a response from Above to a question from below.  The whole impetus for the mitzvah was as a desire for connection on the part of Jews who had been “left out” either because they were too far away, or they were spiritually impure.  This corresponds to the ba’al teshuva who is far from the path of Torah but who wishes to return.

And now we can also understand a detail of the Talmud (Pesachim 90B and Succah 25B) regarding those Jews who could not fulfill the mitzvah because they were impure.  The Talmud concludes that they must have been impure because they had to bury the body of a Jew who was found dead in a place where nobody was available to bury him (mait mitzvah).  In such a case, we are commanded to bury him where we find him.  Discussing this case, the Talmud concludes that the people involved actually did have the opportunity to purify themselves, but failed to do so.  Instead, they preferred to ask, “Why should we be left out?”  Rather than purify themselves in time to bring the prescribed Pascal offering, they preferred to wait.  This indicates that they felt themselves to be in a different class, a unique category that was “separate” from those who joined in the first Pasacal offering.  In other words, the ba’al teshuva, the one who comes out from the “cold” in order to re-establish his connection with God, is on his own path.  He has a unique form of avodat Hashem, and therefore he needs his own festival.  His approach to God is distinct, and for such people, God gave us the festival of Pesach Sheni.

For a longer, more detailed explanation, go to www.jerusalemconnection.org

From LIkutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol 33, page 56 and vol 18, Page 117

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