Unique among the holidays is Passover, which has a make-up day called Pesach Sheni ("Second Passover [Sacrifice]") a month later, on the 14th of Iyar. On Pesach Sheni, those who were unable to participate in the Passover offering in the Holy Temple at the proper time could observe the mitzvah. But why is Passover the only holiday to have a make-up day?

The Simple Response: Passover Is Easy to Miss

From a practical standpoint, Passover is the only holiday whose central observance can be easily missed due to circumstances beyond one’s control.

For example, with enough effort, one can almost always make sure to have access to a shofar for Rosh Hashanah, a lulav and etrog for Sukkot, etc.

On the other hand, in Temple Times, the centerpiece of Passover was eating the korban Pesach (Passover offering) with the matzah and the bitter herbs. In fact, the very name of the holiday, “Pesach” (translated as Passover), comes from the Passover offering.

Now, this could only be done in close proximity to the Temple in Jerusalem (or its forerunner, the Tabernacle), and one had to be in a state of ritual purity. Due to these logistical hurdles, it was entirely conceivable for someone to miss the Passover offering and therefore need to take advantage of a “round two.”

(This also explains why the Second Passover is only for those who missed eating the offering; it is not, however, for anyone who missed out on matzah, maror, reading the Haggadah, etc. to catch up.)

In fact, this is exactly how Pesach Sheni came to be. We read in the Torah that as the first anniversary of the Exodus approached and G‑d instructed the people of Israel to bring the Passover offering on the afternoon of the 14th of Nissan, “there were, however, certain persons who had become ritually impure through contact with a dead body, and could not, therefore, prepare the Passover offering on that day. They approached Moses and Aaron . . . and they said: ‘. . . Why should we be deprived, and not be able to present G‑d’s offering in its time, amongst the children of Israel?’”1

In response to their plea, G‑d established the 14th of Iyar as the Second Passover (Pesach Sheni) for anyone who was unable to bring the offering at its appointed time in the previous month.

The Deeper Reason: Passover Is Our Birth

The Chassidic masters explain that the underlying theme of the Second Passover is the concept of teshuvah (“return”), and that it is never too late to correct our mistakes. To quote the Hayom Yom of the 14th of Iyar:

The theme of Pesach Sheini is that it is never too late. It is always possible to put things right. Even if one was ritually impure, or one was far away, and even in a case when this (impurity, etc.) was deliberate, nonetheless he can correct it.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that this is uniquely tied to Passover, which marks the “birth of the Jewish nation.”2

You can miss many things (buses, exams, work meetings and even flights) and make them up later. But if you miss being born, you really missed the boat.

Therefore, G‑d, wanted every person, even those who purposely missed the first Passover, to have a second chance at Passover, teaching that it truly is never too late to correct our deficiencies, even the most fundamental ones.3

Nowadays, even though we cannot bring the Passover offering, the custom is to still celebrate the Second Passover by eating matzah—shmurah matzah, if possible—and by omitting Tachanun from the prayer services. When marking this day, we should take the clear lesson to heart that no matter how far we may go, or how impure we may have become, G‑d will pave the way for us if we sincerely want to make amends.