Pesach Sheni – Willpower
In our times, with no Pesach offering in the first place, Pesach Sheni nevertheless appears on all Hebrew calendars. Penitence prayers are not recited on this day in most synagogues and some observe the custom of eating leftover matzo, stale as it might be. Otherwise, Pesach Sheni comes and goes without any fanfare and without much notice.
Interestingly, this Mitzvah was not given at first, with all other Mitzvot of the Torah. Initially there was one date for the offering of the Pascal lamb, the 14th of Nisan. The Torah relates that “There were people who were contaminated through contact with a dead body and therefore could not prepare the Passover offering 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, amongst the children of Israel?” (Numbers 9:6-7)
Moses responded that he will approach G-d and determine what is to be done. The Lord then commanded this Mitzvah of a make-up offering for these individuals and for all who might be in similar circumstances in all generations.
Most surprising about this passage is the framing of it by the Torah as a reactionary Mitzvah, a Mitzvah created in response to this petition by the people, “why should we lose out?”
We have a rule when it comes to offerings in the Temple, and this rule has become an idiom in the Hebrew language, known to many Hebrew speakers regardless of their religious tuition. “Once its time has passed, the offering is null.” One cannot make-up a missed offering. Period. Yet, in this instance not only were the aforementioned people given another opportunity to bring an offering, it became codified as law for everyone, in all generations, that this offering had a second chance!
The Torah is showing here the power of human desire. Yes, there is a rule that no missed offering can be compensated for. But people demonstrated a sincere desire to be part of this great Mitzvah. They could not sit quietly, allowing this opportunity to serve the Almighty pass them by. They approached Moses, asking, pushing, for a way around this barrier.
Their burning desire created potential for a new Mitzvah, despite the fact that it contradicted an existing principle against such a Mitzvah.
Rabbi Zev Leff makes a similar comment in the book of Genesis. Jacob ‘stole’ the blessings due to Esau. When Esau caome to his father and found that his brother had already received the blessing he asked his father for a blessing as well. “Is there one blessing left to you, bless also me, my father!” Isaac’s response is that there is nothing left, he had given over all blessings, material and spiritual, to Jacob. Esau then wailed bitterly over his loss. Isaac then proceeded to grant great blessings to Esau, including such blessings that when Jacob fails to fulfill his mission Esau will rule over him.
What happened? Moments ago Isaac had denied Esau any blessing because he had none left to give. Now he suddenly finds plenty to give? What was the reality? Were there blessings available or not?
Rabbi Leff explains that the reality moments earlier was that there were no blessings. But Esau’s burning desire created new potential resulting in Isaac finding resources to bless which had not existed prior to Esau’s wail.
The Mitzvah of a second Pesach, allowing those who missed out to bring a korban after all, is likewise a product of the people’s desire. This Mitzvah illustrates the great power of human will. As Theodore Herzl wrote regarding the establishment of a Jewish State, “If you will it, it is no mere pipe-dream.” It was willed, and it became a reality, just as the fervent desire of the people crying, “why should we be deprived?” also functioned as the stones and mortar of a new reality.