As if Passover Number One wasn’t bad enough, on 14 Iyar we are given the opportunity to do Passover all over again with Pesach Sheini, the Second Passover.
According to Numbers 9:1-14 (Parshah Behaalotecha), there were certain people back in the old days that couldn’t participate in the official Passover sacrifice. They included people who had been made impure by being around dead people as well as people who were not in Jerusalem at the time. They wanted to celebrate Passover, and petitioned Moses for some kind of loophole that would let them participate. So Moses calls God, and God offers up the Second Passover option. And there you have it: Jewish innovation.
People often think of religion as being a series of strict rules, used to enforce an elite’s view of you, the individual, as a screw up sinner who needs to be put back in line. We look at people in black hats and see judgmental authoritarians trying to force upon us a Bronze Age code that simply does not work in the iPhone era. We see religious people looking to passages in the Levitical code about stoning people to death as a sign that God, surely, is a wrathful, vengeful God and if you eat bacon, drive a car on Shabbat or anything else, surely you are asking-for-it-come-hell-or-high-water.
This, of course, is the harsh view. The other view we give religious people is a liberal you-poor-secularist-you-don’t-know-any-better view. We see outreach programs as a condescending attempt to make us feel dumb about our apparent lack of Jewish understanding. We believe that we aren’t sinners really, just Jews that haven’t been properly educated in Torah. If we only knew that our wrists are sexually provocative and that the rib eye at Trader Joe’s isn’t kosher enough, we would see the err of our ways and stick our noses in the Chumash.
These stereotypes; however, are just ridiculous characterizations. I have been in less observant communities which are far more judgmental than these two pictures I have painted, and I have been in more traditional communities that could care less what you do with your stomach, or any other part of your body for that matter.
What I see in this Torah portion, and with the Second Passover, is that while God is often judgmental, only God is the judge of humanity. And it appears as though God’s vision of the world is one where everyone has the opportunity to participate in spiritual fulfillment. Judaism at its best is a Judaism that recognizes this holy mission statement, and I think more often than not, we pretty much stick to this.
Second Passover is not an isolated incident of Jewish innovation. There are many times in the Torah that God and a human being debate righteousness and God sides with humanity. Torah is said to be “lo ba-shamayim hi” or “not in Heaven” (Deut. 30:12). The divide between the spiritual world and the world of the mundane is constantly ripping apart in the Biblical narrative, and through the celebration of holidays, human beings are able to enter into that same sphere of interaction between this world and the domain of the Highest. Why a Second Passver? Because God wants us to have every opportunity possible to dwell in this space of divine interaction.
God has consistently allowed the Jewish people to find ways to make Torah Consciousness possible in every generation: whether it’s through the Talmud, Jewish art, independent minyanim and chavrutah, sages and philosophers, literature and religious movements. God is not stuck in the mud, waiting for a righteous peoplehood to pull “Him” out. Rather, God takes part in our growing and sojourning, standing in front of us as we make our way through the experience of being a human family. Since I believe God shares intimately with the Jewish destiny, I become more and more certain that it is God’s will that we innovate in whatever ways we need to keep the fire of the burning bush alive for countless generations to come.
So if you missed Passover, have a matzah and remember that you’re taking part in something that is greater than yourself, and yet, has you personally in mind.