Pesach Sheni: Gates Closing and Opening1
The Zohar takes an underappreciated day and turns it into a conundrum. Liberally paraphrased, the Zohar says that Knesses Yisrael, having been adorned with crowns in the month of Nisan, retains its regal trappings for a full thirty days after the beginning of Pesach. As long as Knesses Yisrael remains so outfitted, Malchus remains potentiated and accessible. With the end of these thirty days, a Heavenly message announces that those who could not take advantage of this opportunity earlier are now warned that they have seven more days to take a deeper look at this heavenly treasure. After that, the gates close. This warning is issued on Pesach Sheni.
Questions abound. What special quality does this period of accessibility have? Is it supposed to last thirty days – as long as the wearing of the “crowns” – or thirty-seven? If it is thirty, which is the impression one gets from reading the source, what are the seven bonus days about? Is it not ironic that the gates close two weeks before Shavuos, just as we would be expecting the gates to open wider yet before our annual reliving of the receiving of the Torah?
Questions abound at the source of Pesach Sheni as well. The people who agitated for another chance at a korban Pesach are described by the Torah as “unable” to bring their korban at the proper time. This is not quite accurate. They were not so much unable as not allowed. Additionally, what was their argument in stating “why should we be lessened by not offering Hashem’s offering at its appointed time among the Children of Israel?” They knew quite well why they were in a deficient position. They were temei’m; they had articulated as much themselves. They understood the halachah, and understood that they could not comply with it. Why would they see themselves as unfairly excluded to a greater extent than any person who lacked, for no fault of his own, some of the prerequisite conditions to performing a mitzvah properly?
The Torah instructs us regarding the retelling of the Pesach story on the seder night, “And you will relate it to your son on that day.” The Ari HaKadosh saw a parallel between the last phrase of that sentence, and the vision with which we close out the Alenu prayer, “And it will be that Hashem will be King over all the earth. On that day, Hashem will be One and His Name will be One.” Awesome revelations of Hashem and His ways will accompany our day of redemption and deliverance when Moshiach arrives. They are all available to us on some level on the seder night as well, each year.
Those in the wilderness who were temei’im had good grounds to complain. They understood the potential of the seder night and its revelations; they could not accept that they would be unable to partake of the same boost to their spirituality as everyone else. (In fact, they were disadvantaged relative to people in comparable positions. The complainants were all, according to the tradition of Chazal , on their very last day of the process of taharah after being defiled by corpse-tumah, with all requirements fulfilled – other than waiting out the clock until evening. In all other situations, the kohen can slaughter an offering on behalf of someone whose taharah requirements were satisfied, and need only wait for evening before returning to the status of an ordinary tahor person. The korban Pesach, however, differs from other offerings in that it ushers in the exalted spiritual revelations of the seder night. Any vestige whatsoever of corpse-tumah is incompatible with this revelatory experience; hence the special exclusion.)
To be sure, the revelations of the seder night revolve around the special character of the time – the moment at which the Jewish people were chosen as special, and therefore singled out for the loving relationship Hashem demonstrated at the time of the Exodus. Each year, a Jewish soul begins the journey towards this moment of elevation a full thirty days before Pesach. Each day, the soul leaves behind another level of degredation, until it has unburdened itself of much negativity by the fifteenth of Nisan. Rejecting the unseemly in the soul is very different from positive growth. Only the elevation of the soul through kedushah makes it worthy of the distinction of being part of a Chosen People. This elevation occurs through making good use of the revealed lights of the seder night. During the thirty days that follow, we continue to draw from them, firming them up within us. This is what the Zohar means by beholding Matrunisa.
The availability of these lights ends after thirty days. The experience is so crucial, however, that Hashem in His compassion does not wish to see anyone left out. Precisely when the gates close on the lights of Pesach, a message goes out that He has opened a new gate, specifically designed for those who were locked out of the first. (No herald had to announce the first thirty days. Those who were positioned properly felt the revelation of the night of Pesach, and simply had to hold on to and draw from their presence for the next month. The herald on Pesach sheni, however, announces a second chance for those who until now had been moved to the sidelines.) This is a truism about Hashem’s Providence. As we say during N’eilah on Yom Kippur, “Open for us a gate at the time of the closing of the gate.” Whenever He closes off an avenue of approach, He opens a new one, to allow for last-minute joiners.
Today, we regrettably have neither the korban Pesach nor its substitute on Pesach sheni. It would be mistaken, however, to see Pesach sheni as a theoretical construct of mostly historical interest. All parts of Torah continue to function on some level; the special days come with their same regularity, along with their special gifts.
Two classes of people are unable to participate in the korban Pesach, and are shunted to Pesach sheni: those who are temei’im, and those who are distant from Yerushalayim. These classes represent two kinds of spiritual deficit within us today. Some people have defiled themselves, have become temei’im. They come up short in areas of kedushah.
Others find themselves distanced from the power of Yerushalyim. Their problem lies in deficient emunah. Kedushah and emunah, of course, are the two pillars of Jewish living. HKBH provides a second chance for those who might otherwise miss out. Pesach Sheni beckons to all of us to accept the Hand that is extended, just as we think it is drawing away.
1. Based on Nesivos Shalom, vol. 2 pgs. 324-326
3. The Zohar’s text reads “beholdng Matrunisa.” The term often means some level of the sefirah of malchus.
4. Bamidbar 9:6
5. Bamidbar 9:7
6. Zechariah 14:9
7. Pesachim 90B
8. See above, note 3
Text Copyright © 2009 by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein and Torah.org