The week long observance of Passover is coming to an end and many of us, I’m sure, are beginning to think of all the chametz we’re planning to eat. After abstaining for eight days from some of our favorite foods, it will be very satisfying to eat pizza, sandwiches, bagels and donuts. Passover is a very special holiday, rich with meaning and inspiration. But let’s face it…most people can’t tolerate the dietary restrictions imposed by Pesach for more than a week each year. Would it surprise you to know that the Torah tells of a second Passover, to be celebrated a month later? In the reading for the final day of Chol Ha-Moed (the four intermediate non-festival days of the holiday), we read this passage from the Book of Numbers:
And the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the first month of the second year after they came out of the land of Egypt, saying, “Let the people of Israel also keep the Passover at its appointed season. In the fourteenth day of this month, at evening you shall keep it in its appointed season; according to all its rites, and according to all its ceremonies, you shall keep it.” And Moses spoke to the people of Israel, that they should keep the Passover. And they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month at evening in the wilderness of Sinai; according to all that the Lord commanded Moses, so did the people of Israel. And there were certain men, who were defiled by the dead body of a man, so that they could not keep the Passover on that day; and they came before Moses and before Aaron on that day; And those men said to him, We are defiled by the dead body of a man; Why are we kept back, so that we may not offer an offering to the Lord in his appointed season among the people of Israel? And Moses said to them, Wait, and I will hear what the Lord will command concerning you. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If any man of you or of your posterity shall be unclean because of a dead body, or is in a journey far away, he shall still keep the Passover to the Lord. The fourteenth day of the second month at evening they shall keep it, and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They shall leave none of it to the morning, nor break any bone of it; according to all the ordinances of the Passover they shall keep it.” (Numbers 9:1-12)
I’ve always liked this passage, not because it holds out the possibility of celebrating Passover a second time but because it speaks of second chances. These verses assure us that there’s always an opportunity to reconnect with our tradition and our community. Some clarification is in order. The passage begins with a reminder to the Israelites to observe Passover on the first anniversary of the Exodus, complete with the rites and rituals that were part of the first Passover celebration. Certain people, who were unable to observe Passover because they were not ritually purified due to contact with a corpse, complain that they should not be held back from observing the holiday and they appeal to Moses. God’s advice to Moses is that they should be able to observe the holiday on the same day of the following month. This resolution seems satisfying because it enables those who could not celebrate Passover to do so.
I’ve always been drawn to the part of the verse that says “If any person is on a journey far away…” The simple meaning of the passage is that if a person was not physically in a place to offer the Passover sacrifice, he could do so the next month. But I understand these words in a more symbolic light. If a person is on a journey that has taken him far away from Jewish tradition, if someone feels alienated or disconnected from the community, then there’s always a way back, another chance to get connected. That is the nature of our religious tradition. The door is always open to those who wish to participate, to learn, to become engaged and involved.
Despite what the Torah says, there is no actual second Passover. Once I’ve made the last batch of matzah brei, once I’ve put away our Seder plate and our Pesach dishes and pots and pans, the holiday is over until the following year. But one of the encouraging messages of the holiday is that there’s always, always, an open door, a way into Judaism. Passover reminds us that it’s never too late to find a pathway back to our tradition and our way of life.