Bahaalotekha 5780

Bahaalotekha 5780

Our parsha or Torah portion this week is parashat Bahaalotekha, the third parsha in Sefer Bamidbar or the book of Numbers. We are introduced to Pesach Sheni or Second Passover in this parsha, which was instituted upon request of some Israelites who were unable to offer the Passover sacrifice at its official or fixed time—on the 14th of Nisan at twilight. The stated reason was on account of them being what is called Tumaat Meit in Hebrew or imperfectly translated, ritually impure due to recent contact with a corpse. Their ritual status made it impossible for them to offer the Passover sacrifice in Nisan, but all was not lost. A month later, on the 14th of Iyyar, they were able to offer the Passover sacrifice. Today, when we no longer offer sacrifices, Pesach Sheni has been understood in a variety of ways.

In some Chasidic thought, Pesach Sheni has come to represent the idea of spiritual second chances. Teshuvah, or turning and returning is a practice that is available to us all year long, not only on the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Pesach Sheni is another opportunity for us to right what has been wrong, to return to a better path, to have an opportunity to make up something we may have missed. It has become customary in some communities to hold a model seder on Pesach Sheni—indeed, I had the joy of participating in one myself this year—following the structure but of course omitting all of the elements that are only applicable on Pesach itself. Some folks also will eat a bit of matza. Because Pesach Sheni falls during the Omer period, which traditionally is a period of semi-mourning, it also allows for a bit of a celebratory respite.

The Torah states that those who may offer the Passover sacrifice on Pesach Sheni also include those who were on a long journey in Nisan and unable to make the sacrifice. This notion of being on a long journey has also been transformed and made into something of a metaphor.

Much ink has been spilled regarding this challenging and difficult time on a local, national and global scale. Many of us feel as though we have been on a journey whose beginning we barely remember and whose end we cannot imagine. The raw, visceral, unavoidable and inescapable truths of the foundation of America which black, indigenous folks and other people of color have known intimately for centuries are finally, or so it seems, being seen by more white folks than ever before. Many are cautiously optimistic, noting that something about this moment is different but worried that this will not last, as far too many past experiences have amply demonstrated.  We are collectively journeying but importantly, we are each also on an intensely individual journey. In this time of national and global reckoning, it is our responsibility to continue on our inward journeys because without an honest and often times difficult soul-accounting, we cannot show up as our full and authentic selves in the work externally which urgently needs doing and needs all of us. We each have an important role to play. This is a long haul, a marathon and not a sprint. We may feel shame in this moment, realizing that we in fact have had many chances to choose to do and act differently and we did not avail ourselves of those opportunities.

Pesach Sheni was instituted so that those who were far away could make the sacrifice. Our Torah understands that even with one’s best efforts to get it done on time, some folks are not able to. There is something important also about this opportunity for a do-over only for Pesach, not for any other holiday. Pesach is a foundational event for the Jewish people, as we journeyed out of slavery and into freedom or, as the Haggadah also describes, from degradation to praise. Sefer Shemot/the book of Exodus notes that we cried out because of our oppression. Our cries were finally heard, but after many centuries of enslavement, degradation and loss of dignity and autonomy.

And in our own day, our siblings cry out for justice, for life, for breath after too many centuries of injustice. We have had many opportunities. Many of us have been close, proximate and others have not been. Hashem knows our innermost thoughts, yearnings and feelings of shame. It is never too late to do important work, our parsha is teaching us. If not now, as Hillel taught, when? May our journeys guide us to committing to make this world a true dwelling place for the Divine Presence/Shechinah. May we co-create a world of beauty and abundance, where all may thrive and feel utterly at home in their bodies.