The role of Pesach Sheni (“second Passover”) from this week’s portion is described in Numbers 9:1-14.
Every year I am surprised and amazed when something from our tradition that we often overlook suddenly becomes incredibly important.
This year, it was the role of Pesach Sheni (“second Passover”) from this week’s portion described in Numbers 9:1-14. Pesach Sheni was created because of the distress of the Israelite population who were unable to perform and, therefore, celebrate the sacrifices associated with the holiday of Passover. Their distress arose from the desire to participate in a required community act, a celebration of their deliverance by God from Egypt. While our distress arises for different reasons, we, too, wish to gather and celebrate occasions as expected.
Robert Alter writes, “The partaking in the Passover sacrifice is the primary act of affirming membership in the community of Israel, and so the people in question are distressed that a mere accident, contact with a corpse … should exclude them from the community.”
Understandable that the people are upset and thoughtful that our tradition found a way to include everyone in this important celebration. It became important this year, with the “stay home, stay safe” orders across the country.
People were unable to celebrate Passover as they normally would. Though some then thought that by Pesach Sheni, a month later, they would be able to celebrate, this was also not the case; but the fact that our tradition recognizes that there are times when we cannot celebrate as we are expected to is an important lesson for all of us.
The explanation of Pesach Sheni concludes with the following: “… there shall be one law for you, whether stranger or citizen of the country.” (Numbers 9:14) Though directly related to who is responsible for participating in the Pesach offering and celebration, we read these lines today with a different understanding.
“One law” means that we must acknowledge that we live in a country with laws, laws which we are obligated to follow. By participating in society, by following laws, we acknowledge that we care about those around us and not ourselves alone. “Stay home, Stay Safe” was a difficult thing for many — impossible for those who are critical workers — and caused pain, too. It also saved the lives of more people than we know.
As our country tries to get started again, we recognize that we must continue to work hard at keeping the vulnerable in our midst safe — that we have a responsibility to follow the directions of our government and the directions of our tradition, which includes requiring us to disregard a law that would cause harm to a person’s life or health.
May we all be safe; may we all be flexible; may we all give thanks for the ability to participate in community in whatever form that needs to take.
Rabbi Simone Schicker is rabbi at Temple B’nai Israel in Kalamazoo.