Pesach Sheni in the Time of COVID-19: Another Chance for Unity

Pesach Sheni is a very unique mitzvah in the Torah. The common principle is ‘avar zemano – batel korbano’ = once the time has passed, the korban is canceled. Why specifically on Pesach are we granted a second chance? Why this is not an option in any other chag or korban?  

There is a special element in the mitzvah of Pesach that does not exist in any chag or korban. The Korban Pesach is one of the only two positive commandments for which omission is punishable by karet, a punishment of total disconnection and detachment from Am Israel and its eternity: “If a man who is clean and not on a journey refrains from offering the Korban Pesach, that person shall be cut off from his kin” (Bamidbar 9:13). The Korban Pesach is the first act that we performed as a people and therefore it was a declaration of allegiance to Am Israel, Torat Israel, and Netzach Israel. Pesach, together with Brit Milah, are the two key mitzvot that demonstrate our affiliation with Am Israel, so whoever does not observe them is destined to be rejected, distanced and cut off.

That is why we are granted another opportunity to bring the Korban Pesach, to teach us that there will always be a way back, and even the most distant person can return and be part of Klal Israel. It is precisely through the mitzvah of Pesach Sheni that the Torah teaches us that there are second chances, and one must not despair!

The Rambam, in his commentary to the Mishna, explains that the Korban Pesach is a unique korban: “The fourth kind is a personal korban which is like a communal korban. This includes the Korban Pesach, which each person slaughters on the fourteenth of Nisan” (Introduction to Zevachim). Although it is a personal korban, it has the status of a korban tzibbur. Rav Kook (Olat Reiyah I, pp. 178-179) explains that this is the reason why the meat of the Korban Pesach must be roasted and cannot be cooked. Cooking causes meat to expand, but roasting causes the meat to shrink. This korban symbolizes, more than anything else, the unity and togetherness of Am Israel, as it is said: “The whole community of Israel shall offer it” (Shemot 12:47). For that reason, there will always be a second chance to experience that unity, which is the very foundation of the Jewish people, as Rabbi Elazar HaKappar said: “‘Peace is so important, that even if the Jews practice Avodah Zara, but do it in one fellowship, the attribute of strict justice will not harm them” (Derech Eretz Zuta 9:2).

During the times of COVID-19, many of us have experienced quarantine and isolation, but at the very same time we have encountered a tremendous degree of unity, solidarity, and tolerance. Before the pandemic began, the world and Jewish society had experienced an extreme level of divisiveness and hatred. Public discourse became disrespectful and violent, and people tended to attack anyone who disagreed with their views. This tiny virus – the joint enemy of all of humanity – has forced us all to let go of these divisive elements, realizing how much we are all dependent on each other.

Demonstrations of solidarity in Jewish society have crossed the boundaries between all sectors and denominations. There were even voices within American Jewry expressing the need for support from the State of Israel. Perhaps this is a second chance given by Hashem, a second chance for unity, for solidarity, for respect, for Makhloket L’Shem Shamayim. It is very symbolic that during the week of Pesach Sheni, a united government will finally be formed in Israel after three very divisive election campaigns, a unity which will help to heal our society from the deep wounds of divisiveness and hatred.

Let us hope and pray that we can find the courage and strength to continue this solidarity on the day after COVID-19, to form a better society based on kindness and mutual respect. 

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