Sunday, May 22, 2016
A Holiday For Second Chances - Pesach Sheni and Parashat Emor (c)
Rabbi David Baum, Congregation Shaarei Kodesh
May 21, 2016/13th of Iyyar 5776
I recently had a conversation with a woman who was lamenting to me about her career. Her travel schedule is grueling, and her work leaves her unfulfilled. It turns out we went to the same college, and she was a reporter for the local newscast. That's what she wanted to be – a reporter, but you know what, life happened, and she got into a profession that paid a lot more, but something's missing. She doesn't feel like she is the person she is meant to be.
I said, why not change your career? Her answer: “Well, it's too late for me, I'm too old.” She's 31 years old. There is something called the window of opportunity that we all know about – a window is open for a short time, and after it's closed, it remains closed.
Who in here has had a time in their life when they felt that their window of opportunity has closed?
Today, I want to tell you something – God wants to give you a second chance.
In our parashah this week, Emor, we read a recounting of the Jewish holidays. The order of the Festivals is in the following order: Pesah, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Shemini Atzeret. One would think Rosh Hashanah would be first, but it isn't. Rosh Hashanah is a holiday that we associate with tesuvah, repentance. The word, Tesuvah, has the word Shuv in it, which means to return. But there is another holiday that also teaches us a lesson of returning, or making up for a lost opportunity – Pesah.
Not only does Pesach happen during a specific time, but one has to be a specific state, ritually pure, in order to celebrate the holiday through the consumption of the Pesach lamb (Leviticus 22:3). So if you touched a dead body, you would not be able to take part in this sacrifice. So the people who could not participate in this offering bring the issue to Moshe.
"Although we are unclean by reason of a corpse, why must we be debarred from presenting the Lord’s offering at its set time with the rest of the Israelites?" (Numbers 9:7)
What is happening here is something that we rarely see in the Torah. We see Bnai Israel rebel at certain times, but this type of rebellion is different – they want to follow the law, but they cannot because the rules prohibit them. Leviticus is very much about pure and impure – it's like science, but here we see a bit of heart. In our parashah this week, we read about the priests who cannot serve because of certain malformities, but we don't see anyone speak up to protest. Here we see that the people protest against exclusion. And Moses brings this account to God – can these people have a second chance? The Pesach offering is perhaps the most important offering in the Torah – they want to bring a korban to you – in other words, they want to be Karov to you, they want to be close – will you give them a second chance?
After God hears about this plea from the people, God tells Moses:
דַּבֵּר אֶל־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר אִישׁ אִישׁ כִּי־יִהְיֶה־טָמֵא לָנֶפֶשׁ אוֹ בְדֶרֶךְ רְחֹקָה לָכֶם אוֹ לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם וְעָשָׂה פֶסַח לַיקוָק׃
“10 Speak to the Israelite people, saying: When any of you or of your posterity who are defiled by a corpse or are on a long journey would offer a passover sacrifice to the Lord, 11they shall offer it in the second month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight. They shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, 12and they shall not leave any of it over until morning. They shall not break a bone of it. They shall offer it in strict accord with the law of the passover sacrifice.”
And so a new holiday was born, and it continues until today - tonight we observe Pesach Sheni – the Second Pesach.
Before I go into how we should observe this holiday, I wonder if any of you notice that God added something to this commandment. The people came to Moses and complained that they couldn't eat of it because they were in a state of impurity, but God adds something else:
כִּי־יִהְיֶה־טָמֵא לָנֶפֶשׁ אוֹ בְדֶרֶךְ רְחֹקָה
“those who are defiled by a corpse or are on a long journey”
Those of you who are on a long journey. What could this mean? How can one be on a long journey when they were part of the camp in the wilderness? Some commentators claim that this is a commandment for the future, when the people will be in Israel, and the sacrifices offered in a central place, Jerusalem – what if you were on a long journey because you live far from Jerusalem and missed Pesach? But not everyone bought this idea of a person being on a long physical journey.
Rashi, the famous Medieval commentator, gives us a hint as to how this word might be different – Derech Rechoka, we translate it as long journey– there is a dot over the 'hey' in Rechoka teaches us that this does not literally refer to a long journey, but to a more limited distance – you could have even been in the courtyard when the sacrifice was offered, but for some reason, you missed your chance to give the Korban – to get close to God.
How many of us wish we could go back in time to change a fork in the road we once took on our journeys? Now we can look back and see how close we were to a specific path, and yet, we missed our chance.
As a Rabbi, I see this often. I will never forget the time a man was filling up his car with gas, and he came to the door of CSK and wanted to talk to me. He opened his passenger window and told me, “I went to a frum Yeshiva growing up, but I took a different path. I have a family with a non-Jewish partner, and I have three kids, but I feel like I'm missing, like we are missing something. My family doesn't even know I'm Jewish.” And so I told him – the gates are open whenever you want to come back – just come in. But he didn't believe me – he closed his window and never returned. I suppose he felt he wasn't worthy of a second chance.
I guess he didn't believe that he could have a second chance.
We cannot change the past – there is no such thing as a rewind button in life – but we can change how we look at the past, and with this knowledge in hand, how we take steps into the future.
There is an argument in the Talmud, is Pesach Sheni a make up holiday, or a holiday of itself? I like to think it is its own holiday – a day when we are seemingly on our journeys, just like Bnai Israel were so many years ago at this time of the year, to remind us that we cannot press rewind to change the past, but we can have a second chance with the steps we take into the future, the new journeys we embark upon in our lives. We cannot take that fork in the road again, but we can look to future forks in the road, and choose a different path that we hope will bring us closer to God and closer to that part of our soul that we know is really us – our unleavened selves.
How many of us look in the mirror like that young woman who was meant to be a reporter does and say, “This is not who I'm meant to be, but it's too late.”?
But there was one thing she did change about herself, a different journey she took. This woman was not born Jewish, but she did find herself at high holiday services at Shaarei Kodesh one year. She had been divorced for a couple of years at a young age, and she was with a Jewish man who was also divorced for a couple of years, also at a young age. Both claimed they wouldn't love again, but during that service, they held each others hands, and she made a choice – that she had to take a different journey – one that led her to become a Jew, and they both chose each other to take a second chance on love.
We cannot change the past, but it's never too late to change the future. The God of Pesach teaches us that we have to be pure to participate, but the God of Pesach Sheni, the same God by the way, teaches us that human beings are not perfect – we make choices that sometimes lead us to impurity, we take journeys that maybe we shouldn't take, but God, who is compassionate and understanding, teaches us that it's never too late to make another choice, to give us a second chance, to start journeying in a different direction.
So tonight, as you eat a piece of matzah, would you consider doing one more thing? Would you consider thinking about about a long journey you might be on, that maybe you are ready to rethink and start heading in a different direction – a direction that will bring you closer to God and closer to your true self.
Today is today, but tomorrow can be a new journey. Shabbat Shalom and an early חג שמח!