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Torah Sparks

BO
January 19, 2002/5762

Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Exodus 10:1-13:16; Hertz, p. 248; Etz Hayim, p. 374
Triennial Cycle I: Exodus 10:1-11:3; Hertz, p. 248; Etz Hayim, p. 374
Haftarah: Jeremiah 46:13-28; Hertz, p. 263; Etz Hayim, p. 395

This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary

(10:1-29) The eighth plague, locusts, and the ninth, darkness.

(11:1-3) God announces to Moses the last and decisive plague, and instructs him to tell the people to prepare for leaving by asking the Egyptians for jewels and gold, which the Egyptians, overawed by events and by Moses' apparent power, readily give.

(11:4-10) Moses announces the tenth plague to Pharaoh, and the slaying of all the first-born of Egypt, but God hardens Pharaoh's heart and he does not respond to this final ultimatum.

(12:1-13) The Passover sacrifice in Egypt. The Israelites are commanded to take a lamb, slaughter it on the 14th of Nisan, at twilight, mark the doorposts of their houses with its blood, and eat the lamb on the eve of the 15th. On that same night, God struck down all the first-born of Egypt.

(12:14-20) The Israelites are commanded to observe Passover, the 15th of Nisan, for all time. For the entire seven days of the festival they shall not eat, or even possess, any leaven.

(12:21-28) Moses and Aaron convey the Passover commandments to the people.

(12:29-36) The first-born of Egypt all die, and the Egyptians capitulate. The Israelites prepare to leave.

(12:37-42) The Israelites leave Egypt.

(12:43-13:10) The laws of the Paschal lamb sacrifice, the dedication to God of the firstborn, and further details concerning the observance of Passover.

(13:11-16) Laws concerning redemption of the first-born, the telling of the Passover story, and tefillin.

This Shabbat's Theme: "Pesah Sheini - Reviving An Ancient Observance"

Speak to the whole community of Israel and say that on the tenth day of this month each of them shall take a lamb... and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month... and slaughter it at dusk... (Ex. 12:3, 6)

  1. In the time of the Temple, those who could not bring the Pascal lamb at the required time, either for reasons of ritual impurity or because they were traveling and were too far from Jerusalem to arrive in time for Passover, could bring the Paschal lamb a month later. Instead of on the fourteenth day of the Hebrew month of Nisan as prescribed above, they could bring the sacrifice exactly one month later - on the fourteenth day of Iyyar (Numbers 9:6 - 12). The day on which this postponed sacrifice was to be offered is called in Hebrew Pesah Sheini or the "Second Passover" (Isaac Klein, A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice, p. 143)
  2. Pesah Sheini is also referred to as "Minor Passover". Although most of the restrictions of the first Passover apply to Pesah Sheini, according to the Mishnah (Pesahim 9:3) a person observing Pesah Sheini in Temple times was required to eat matzah but was not obligated to rid his house of all leaven - hametz. Some Jews today still commemorate Pesah Sheini by eating matzah on the fourteenth of Iyar as a reminder of the Exodus (cf. Judah Dov Singer, Ziv Haminhagim, 1965). The only real reminder today though of Pesah Sheini for the community is the omission of the tahanun prayer in the liturgy. Also it should be pointed out that because more than one Passover is mentioned in the Bible (as explained above), the tractate in the Talmud that deals with Passover law is called Pesahim (plural), and is not given the singular designation Pesah. (Alfred Kolatch, The Book of Why, p. 210)
  3. The rule of "making up" a holiday if it is missed, as is the case with Passover, does not apply to Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur or any other calendar on the Jewish calendar. Why is this unique exception made for Passover? A number of very fine homiletical answers (e.g. S.Z. Kahana, Heaven on Your Head, p. 72) and halachic answers (e.g. Jacob Milgrom, The JPS Torah Commentary, p. 70) have been offered to this question but perhaps, we may may arrive at an additional worthwhile conclusion through the following consideration:

    Numbers 5:13 states: "The man who was ritually clean and was not on a journey and still refrained from observing the Passover sacrifice unto the Lord, that person shall be cut off from his people." Being "cut off" (Hebrew - khrt) meant separation from the Jewish people, not imposed by a human tribunal but by divine fiat. Clearly, this was a serious punishment. No such penalty applied to any of the rituals, associated with Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur or any othe r Jewish Yom Tov Festival. The only application of "excision" then was associated with the premeditated non-observance of Passover.

    The Torah relates that those Israelites who were not able to observe the Passover ritual due to being ritually impure or who were traveling also felt, in a real sense, "cut off". They, therefore, complained bitterly to Moses and Aaron, asking, "Unclean though we are by reason of a corpse's impurity, why must we be debarred.. (lit. why should we be made less than the rest of Israel) ...from presenting the Lord's offering?" (Num. 9:7). In response to their desperate plea not to be separated from their people, the Lord responded by originating the unique observance of Pesah Sheini. (Author )

Sparks for Discussion:

Of course, there are no more pascal sacrifices. Yet, we do observe Passover in a variety of meaningful ways. Can we create a contemporary and relevant way to observe Pesah Sheini - a "delayed Passover" in our time? One such possibility comes to my mind from my personal experience.

While serving as a chaplain in the U.S. Army, I delighted in those Jewish military men and women who "stuck to their Faith" despite difficult hardships which would arise from time to time. As it turned out, there were some military personnel who sometimes would find themselves in distant places, remote from the Jewish community and felt at a loss because they could not celebrate Passover in any form - no Seder and not even a matzah to be eaten. We may think that this is no great thing about which to be concerned but several of them asked me, not unlike the complainants in the Bible whom we mentioned above, if there was any remedy for them having "missed out" on Passove entirely.

Additionally, there was the situation of an officer who attended our services regularly was unfortunately in the hospital on Passover. His serious operation and illness kept him in the hospital for several weeks thereafter. As he was recovering, he wondered if he could be given a "make up" of a Jewish holiday (such as Passover) as a person could be given a "make-up" for an important exam. It set me to thinking...

Should we consider the possibility of a "Second Passover" (on the 14th of Iyyar) being reinstituted in some form to accommodate those who were ill or for some other reason were prevented from observing Passover appropriately? If so, how would you suggest it be observed? Some have already suggested and even initiated a "Third Seder". What do you think?

Postscript

This year Pesah Sheini - "Second Passover" - 14th of Iyyar - falls on Thursday night and Friday, April 25 - 26, 2002. If that is too soon to arrange something in your community, then maybe next year you can accommodate those who were forced to miss Passover with a "Second Passover" observance on Thursday night and Friday, May 15 -16, 2003.


 
 
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