Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Pesach Sheini – The Distant, The Broken and The Hopeful

This Friday is the fourteenth day of Iyar, Pesach Sheini. In Chazal, in addition to the name Pesach Sheini, we also find the day called Pesach Koton, and Pischa Zeira, which is Pesach Koton in Aramaic.

The Torah tells a person who was tomei or b’derech rechokah, on a distant road, to bring the Korban Pesach one month later, on the fourteenth day of Iyar. The korban was brought in the Bais Hamikdosh just as it was brought on the fourteenth of Nissan. However, unlike the Pesach Rishon in Nissan, on Pesach Sheini there was no prohibition of eating chometz, even for those bringing the Korban Pesach at that time.

Now, we might wonder if Pesach Sheini is merely an opportunity to make up what was missed or a day that has importance to us today even when we don’t have the Korban Pesach.

Rav Osher Dovid May quoted the sefer Zecher Dovid, which addresses this question. The Zecher Dovid proves that the day of the fourteenth of Iyar has special qualities for Klal Yisroel that are reawakened for our benefit every year, as is the case with all moadim. The Medrash Rabbah on Megillas Esther says that when Haman drew lots to choose a month appropriate for him to attack Klal Yisroel, he started with Nissan but rejected it because, during Nissan, Klal Yisroel has the zechus of Pesach. He rejected Iyar because of the zechus of Pesach Sheini, he rejected Sivan because of the zechus of Kabbolas HaTorah on Shavuos, and the Medrash continues through the months of the year. So, we see that although there was no Bais Hamikdosh at the time of Haman, still, the month of Iyar gives us special protection because of Pesach Sheini. Clearly, there is something special about this day even for us today.

It is because of this that many or most shuls don’t say Tachanun on Pesach Sheini, because some measure of simcha is appropriate even though Pesach Sheini isn’t a full Yom Tov.

Now the question is: On a practical level, what should we focus on in anticipation of Pesach Sheini? What special lessons are there and what gifts does the day bring us that we can tap into?

Let’s first analyze the parsha of Korban Pesach Sheini. A number of Jews who were tomei at the time of the first Pesach told Moshe Rabbeinu that they had a deep and powerful desire to be included in the mitzvah, and they asked if there was anything that could be done to help them. Moshe asked Hashem, and the answer was that they can bring the korban at a later time, on the fourteenth of Iyar. When instructing Moshe on the halachos of Pesach Sheini, Hashem added that this halacha of Pesach Sheini doesn’t only apply to someone who was tomei, but also to a person who was b’derech rechokah, on a distant way, at the time of the first Pesach.

It is well-known that the Chiddushei Harim said that these people who were tomei knew quite well that they were exempt from the mitzvah. However, they were so distraught that they wouldn’t have the privilege of doing the mitzvah. Their desire not to miss out on the mitzvah was so sincere that Hashem, Who measures the true intent of a person’s heart, responded to their request by keeping the gates of heaven, which had been opened for the Yom Tov of Pesach, open until a month later. So too, says the Chiddushei Harim, every Jew needs to know that through the sincerest and deepest thirst and desire to be zocheh to become close to Hashem, new frontiers are opened for us, each of us in our own lives.

When Rav Yaakov Yosef Herman moved from New York to Eretz Yisroel in 1939, he accepted upon himself never to sleep outside the city of Yerushalayim and never to miss davening kevosikin at the Zichron Moshe Shul. One day, he was in Tel Aviv and missed the last bus back to Yerushalayim. He had made up his mind, however, and had no intention of staying outside Yerushalayim, so he began walking in the dark along the deserted Tel Aviv-Yerushalayim highway. A while later, a car, driving toward Tel Aviv, screeched to a stop after passing him. The driver backed up, rolled down the window, and said, “Rebbi, is that you? What are you doing?”

The driver was someone who Rav Yaakov Yosef had recently introduced to Torah. Rav Yaakov Yosef told him about his kabbolah and said that he was on his way to Yerushalayim.

The incredulous driver retorted, “Go ahead, rebbi. We will already see when you’ll make it to Jerusalem,” and he drove off. A few minutes later, however, the man felt bad leaving his rebbi like that and turned his car around and drove him to Yerushalayim. When they arrived at the entrance to the city, Rav Yaakov Yosef looked at his watch and said, “I see that there is still some time left before vosikin at Zichron Moshe!”

This is the basic idea of Pesach Sheini. The awesome power of a sincere heart and a deep yearning to do the Will of Hashem. The Ribono Shel Olam gives us as much as we ask for.

The Medrash says that Moshe Rabbeinu asked Hashem what should be done with someone who missed the korbanlesha’ah uledoros,” for now and for all generations. The message of Pesach Sheini is forever – for every person in every generation.

My father zt”l uncovered an extremely deep, profound, and inspiring lesson from this mitzvah, one that is relevant to so many people at some point and time in their life.

There is a disagreement in the Mishnah in Pesochim as to the amount of distance required for derech rechokah. Rabi Akiva says that the shiur is fifteen mil. If someone is approximately ten miles away from Yerushalayim at midday on Erev Pesach, he is exempt from the first Pesach and has to bring the Pesach on Pesach Sheini. Rabi Eliezer, however, says that anyone who was standing outside the doorstep of the courtyard of the Bais Hamikdosh from midday of the fourteenth of Nissan until sundown is considered to be b’derech rechokah.

My father related that he once fell asleep agonizing and being terribly bothered by two questions. a) How can we possibly call someone standing at the doorstep of the Bais Hamikdosh “far away”? b) How does giving such a person a second opportunity on Pesach Sheini help him? He will still be standing outside the doorway when the fourteenth of Iyar comes. He cannot sleep inside the azarah for a month!

In his sleep, in a very intense dream, he came to the conclusion that there’s no way to explain this other than saying that “derech rechokah – a distant road” according to Rabi Eliezer is not a physical limitation, but rather an attitude that holds him back from doing the mitzvah. This person feels so lowly of himself that he mentally cannot bring himself to walk that last inch into the Bais Hamikdosh to bring the korban. He feels unworthy and ashamed. The Torah is teaching us that the person in this dark place must be viewed favorably and must make sure to be ready for Pesach Sheini. He might not be ready right now, but he can overcome his pain and be prepared for his second chance.

In his sleep, my father then asked himself a third (rhetorical) question that he hadn’t thought of while awake: For such a person, the Torah gives this opportunity to become ready and willing the next time for Pesach Sheini?!

And with this, we come to an incredibly deep lesson from the parsha of Pesach Sheini.

The people who approached Moshe were tomei meis from contact with a dead body. These righteous tzaddikim (Sifri 9:21) cried out to Moshe Rabbeinu with utmost sincerity, “We want to be able to do the mitzvah! We cannot bear to miss out!” Those who asked were truly tzaddikim unable to control their circumstances. But what was Hashem’s response to their cry?

Hashem said, “I will reward you for your sincere desire to do the mitzvah with another opportunity – Pesach Sheini on the fourteenth of Iyar. But you should know that it is not only you who I expect to do the mitzvah and be ready next time. Rather, I also expect that Jew who feels so sinful, broken, unworthy, dejected, undeserving, and good-for-nothing, in such a lonely and dark place that he is unwilling to get out of bed. Even a person who is so far that he is a thousand miles away while standing right at the threshold of the Bais Hamikdosh is able and expected to be ready for Pesach Sheini.

That person is also able to and expected to find a way to be ready next time. The Torah is teaching us to look favorable at a person who is struggling. A person should look favorable at themselves when they are struggling, and if they feel like they are far away, they are always able to find a way back home.

This is ultimately the lesson of Pesach Sheini. The tzaddik who, with his pure heart, is pained at the fact that he is forcibly held back from bringing the korban is one person. But Hashem is teaching us that what He wants more than anything else is the avodah of the person who feels like he is b’derech rechokah. It is a person like him who stops at nothing to find a way to climb another step in the spiritual ladder who brings the most special nachas to the Ribono Shel Olam.

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