Another Opportunity Granted
Pesach Sheni (“the Second Pesach”) is celebrated on the 14th of Iyar, a month after the eve of Pesach. The Torah relates that in the first year after the Exodus, when the Jewish people were preparing to bring the Pesach sacrifice:
There were [certain] men who were impure because [they had come in contact with a] human corpse, and they could not bring the Pesach offering on that day. They came before Moshe . . . and said, “We are unclean . . . [but] why should we be held back from bringing the offering of G‑d in its time . . . ?”
Moshe said to them, “Stand and hear what G‑d will command concerning you.”
G‑d said . . . : “If any man be impure . . . or on a distant way [on the day of the Pesach offering] . . . , he shall sacrifice the Pesach offering to G‑d, in the second month, on the fourteenth day at dusk . . .”
Anyone who did not bring a Pesach offering, because of impurity or even because he had willfully transgressed G‑d’s will, was thus given the opportunity to compensate for his shortcoming by bringing an offering on Pesach Sheni.
“It’s Never Too Late!”
The Previous Rebbe explained that “Pesach Sheni teaches us that ‘Nothing is ever lost: it’s never too late!’ Our conduct can always be rectified. Even someone who is impure, who was far away and even desired to be so, can still correct himself.” There is no justification for despair. Every individual, no matter what his situation, always has the potential to make a “leap forward” (the literal translation of the Hebrew word pesach) in his service of G‑d.
Given the significance of Pesach Sheni, one might ask: Why was it instituted a full month after Pesach, in the month of Iyar? Wouldn’t it have been better to atone for our deficiencies at the earliest opportunity, in Nissan?
We can answer this question by comparing the spiritual characteristics of Nissan and Iyar. Nissan is the month of revelation, the month during which G‑d revealed His greatness and redeemed the Jewish people despite their inadequacies. Iyar, by contrast, is the month of individual endeavor, a quality that is exemplified by the mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer. The theme of Iyar, self-refinement initiated by the individual himself, is in keeping with the nature of Pesach Sheni, the festival in which an individual who was not motivated by Pesach is given an additional opportunity to elevate himself.
Pesach and Chametz Together
The different stages of divine service represented by Pesach Rishon (the first Pesach) and Pesach Sheni are reflected in one of the halachic differences between them. On Pesach Rishon, all traces of chametz must be obliterated; on Pesach Sheni, although we eat matzah, one may have chametz in one’s possession.
On Pesach Rishon, hoisted aloft by the divinely initiated revelations of the month of Nissan, we strive to reach new heights of spiritual freedom by stepping beyond the limits of our own personalities. This necessitates leaving behind our chametz, i.e., our egotism. Then comes the month of Iyar, with its demand for individual spiritual homework. On Pesach Sheni, accordingly, we concentrate on rectifying and upgrading our current levels of conduct. And since in this kind of avodah we have to deal with all the current components of our natures, the possession of chametz on Pesach Sheni is permitted.
The Desire Within Our Hearts
In light of this, we can explain why the mitzvah of Pesach Sheni came about in response to the sincere request of individuals who were impure. One of the goals of Judaism is to draw holiness—downward, so to speak—into the world. A more important goal, however, is to elevate the world and the worldly aspects of man, to transform all aspects of our being, and bring to the surface the essential G‑dliness within us.
The institution of Pesach Sheni was prompted by the heartfelt desires of those who, despite their impurity, protested, “Why should we be prevented from bringing the offering of G‑d?” The mitzvah was given not as a commandment from above, but as an expression of man’s inner need to establish a bond with G‑d.
This need exists in potential in every Jewish heart. Man’s plea for “one more chance” reflects the mode of divine service called teshuvah (repentance; lit., “return”). For everyone, even a person who is “on a distant path,” possesses a divine potential which always seeks to realize itself.
Stepping Above Time
The concept of teshuvah helps us understand another difference between Pesach Sheni and Pesach Rishon. Pesach Rishon lasts seven days (and eight in the Diaspora), while Pesach Sheni is celebrated for only one day. A week represents the cycle of change that governs our material world. The spiritual experience of Pesach Rishon requires a full week, because it encompasses the entire cycle of growth and change, which must take place within the framework of our worldly existence.
The service of teshuvah, however, requires us to reach beyond our limited, worldly frame of reference and express the unbounded potential of the G‑dly spark within us. This potential, which transcends the restrictions of the natural world, cannot be confined within the limitations of time. The celebration of Pesach Sheni for one day symbolizes transcendence. Here, the number one is not the smallest number; instead, it represents a unity which transcends all numerical values.
The time-transcending quality of teshuvah is exemplified by the Talmudic account of R. Eliezer ben Durdaya. Although he had led a wanton life, when he felt compelled to do teshuvah he experienced an internal transformation so intense that his soul departed from his body as he wept in remorse. When R. Yehudah HaNasi heard this story, he too wept, exclaiming, “There are those who attain [their share in] the world [to come] after many years [of divine service], and there are others who attain [their share in] the world [to come] in one moment.”
Chassidic thought explains that R. Yehudah HaNasi was reacting with a positive form of envy, for he realized that R. Eliezer ben Durdaya’s teshuvah surpassed his own spiritual heights.
Although Pesach Sheni was initially instituted for those who had not offered the Pesach sacrifice in its proper time, its spiritual expression in our divine service is relevant to all Jews, even those who have celebrated Pesach as completely as possible.
The Pesach sacrifice was intended to motivate every individual to leave his personal Egypt, to make a radical departure from his previous spiritual state and approach a new, higher, level of divine service. The departure from Egypt is a continuous process; we must constantly proceed forward. No matter what heights a person has reached, he should not remain content with the level he has attained, and must always seek to advance further. For the G‑dly potential within us is infinite.
In the month of Iyar, therefore, the offering brought on Pesach Rishon becomes insufficient. Since the passage of time has afforded us the opportunity of reaching greater heights in our divine service, it is necessary for us to bring another offering on Pesach Sheni.
The necessity for constant spiritual striving is illustrated by reference to the laws regulating ritual purity. There are several successive states of purity and impurity. For example, and in ascending order, someone who is considered pure with regard to chullin (non-sacramental food) may be deemed impure with regard to the more stringent demands of maaser sheni (the second tithe, which must be eaten only in Jerusalem and only while in state of purity). By the same token, someone who is considered pure with regard to maaser sheni may still be impure with regard to terumah (the portion of grain given to the kohanim). Similarly, one who is pure in regard to terumah might still be impure for the purpose of partaking of the sacrifices offered in the Beis Hamikdash.
These categories are paralleled in our divine service. Though an individual may have been “pure” at his level of divine service on the 14th of Nissan, his progress since then renders his previous status unsatisfactory. Relative to his present level of attainment, his previous state is “impure,” and he is therefore obligated to bring a second Pesach offering.
We find that a pattern of continuous growth—“They shall proceed from strength to strength”—is associated with “appear[ing] before G‑d in Zion.” May the personal growth motivated by Pesach Sheni prepare us for the time when the Beis Hamikdash will be rebuilt, and we will partake of the Pesach offerings and the other festive offerings. And may this take place in the immediate future.
Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 18, Parshas Behaalosecha,
and the sichah of Motzaei Shabbos Parshas Emor, 5738