Passover: The Sequel?!
Just when you think Passover 5778 was behind us, just when the haggadot have been shoved into the cabinet marked “Don’t Touch Till April,” just when the last box of “Pesadik Brownie Mix” has been incinerated, unopened — comes news that there is a second Passover.
Called Pesach Sheni, it comes exactly one month after the first night of Passover, or Iyar 14, and it comes out of a story from the Book of Numbers:
“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 God’s offering in its time, among the children of Israel?’” (Numbers 9:6-7).
And equally unexpectedly, God not only hears the appeal but rules favorably on it. From that point on, Iyar 14 — well past the threshold for disqualifying impurities — was established as Pesach Sheni. Although no one brings sacrifices these days, there are many who do in fact hold a third Seder on the second Pesach. Some even brave the picked-over kosher aisles for one last box of shmura matzo to eat during it.
Living in a town notorious for its unwarranted, and sometimes unwatchable, sequels, I’m skeptical. Wasn’t eight days of “Dulce de Leche” macaroons enough (I ask the people who came up with an entire song called “Dayenu”)? Was the weeklong, full-scale transformation of our eating — and to some extent, living — spaces insufficiently transformative? After the multisensory “You were there” experience of two seders, isn’t “Pesach 2” bound to be anticlimactic?
But what I’ve realized is that Pesach Sheni contains a few intriguing ideas that apply to even us post-Temple folk:
After acres of ink devoted to festivals, observances and Temple-building schematics that the generic “everyone” is instructed to follow, comes this inconvenient outlier group. “What about us?” they ask. “We who suffered the loss of a loved one or some other circumstance outside our control that separated us from ‘the gang.’ How can we not take part in the seminal story of our people?”
Literally the dirtiest among us are still demanding a seat at the table. And God demands that we make room for them.
After the multisensory “You were there” experience of two seders, isn’t “Pesach 2” bound to be anticlimactic?
Throughout the Torah, Moses and Aaron are challenged more often than retired gunfighters in the Old West. Often this leads to outbursts of frustration, reversals of history and plagues. But why is this kvetch different from all other kvetches? Maybe because they’re not complaining about the lack of something (looking at you, water and meat), but rather a missing opportunity to bring something good to the community.
And the good news is, God responds affirmatively — improvising on the spot a special law just for these people. It’s enough to make Washington lobbyists jealous.
Most of all, the idea of a second Passover springing up out of nowhere one month after the original has something to offer all of us — pure and impure alike.
Our rabbis teach that Hoshana Rabba, the seventh day of Sukkot, can be regarded as a Yom Kippur “extension,” the last day on which we can turn in our belated atonement. This forces us to try to bring the lofty rhetoric and pure spirituality of Yom Kippur into the all-too-earthy world of the sukkah.
Likewise, perhaps Pesach Sheni comes along to remind us of all those amazing and powerful things we said, sang and pledged around our seder tables not so many weeks ago. “You may be once again drowning happily in pizza and brioche,” it tells us, “but don’t forget how hard you just worked to liberate yourselves.”
So when you spot Pesach Sheni on your iCal or HebCal, take a moment to remember the actual lonely orphans who want nothing more than to be a part of it all.
This is their holiday, and God is willing to interrupt even his own Torah to make sure it’s ours too.
Rob Kutner is a writer for “Conan” and the author of the comic book “Shrinkage.”