| Pesach

Jewish life is all too often rather chaotic. Yet Pesach and Yom Kippur, the two central holidays of the year[1] teach the importance of seder, order. We come together on the night of Pesach for a seder and the special service of Yom Kippur, the one that in Temple times was a necessary component of atonement, is known as seder haavodah.

It is not enough to do the mitzvot of the day, one must do them in a specified order at specific times. If one drinks four cups of wine at random  one does not properly fulfil the obligation of drinking four cups of wine which are to be drunk at specific points of the seder. The Yom Kippur service must be carried out in all its many precise details exactly as prescribed or it is rendered a meaningless ritual and a useless waste of time.

While our seder today focuses on sippur yetziat mitzraim, learning from the events of the Exodus, and the eating of matza, during Temple times it was the eating of the korban pesach, the pascal lamb, that took centre stage. The matza and marror were to be eaten as condiments to the pesach sacrifice.

Not only does the Torah spell out the menu for the seder it instructs that the korban pesach be barbecued lamb, must be eaten by midnight with no meat leftover - any leftovers are to be burnt, treating it as we treat chametz - while at the same time being prohibited from breaking any bones to suck out some juicy marrow. So central is this sacrifice is that our holiday takes its name from this sacrifice – one that was actually brought on erev Pesach, the afternoon before the seder. The seven day festival we call Pesach is actually called Chag haMatzot in the Torah – yet we call it Pesach.

As the Talmud notes regarding sacrifices, avar yomo batel korbano, when the day passes the sacrifice is invalidated. Korbanot must be brought at their designated time[2]. The Mishna (Chagigah 1:9) in discussing one who does not bring the korban chagigah on time – the sacrifice brought on the shalosh regalim that would serve meat to be eaten on Yom tov – ascribes to such a person the verse “That which is crooked cannot be made straight; and that which is wanting cannot be numbered” (Kohelet 1:15).

Thus it is rather surprising that the Torah allows, and demands, that one who did not bring the korban pesach on its original date is given a second opportunity to do so a month later on what is known as Pesach Sheni, the second Pesach. “There were some householders who were ritually unclean [because of contact with] a dead person, and could not make the Passover sacrifice on that day. They approached Moshe and Aharon on that day and said, ‘we are ritually unclean why should we be excluded and not bring the offering of the Lord in its appointed time, with all the children of Israel?” (Bamidbar 9:6-7)

So unusual was this request that Moshe was stumped. “Moshe said to them, 'wait, and I will hear what the Lord instructs concerning you".And G-d then instructs Moshe regarding the laws of Pesach sheni.

A simple reading of the verses indicate that these laws were promulgated only due to the initiative of the people who could not bring the korban pesach.Had they not complained about being excluded from the community they would not have been given this opportunity. For those who want to join the community there is always a second chance.

It is the korban pesach that signifies our connection to the people of Israel. By slaughtering an Egyptian god and putting the blood on their doorposts they joined the Jewish nation, allowing G-d to save them. Together with brit milah – symbolizing our personal commitment to the covenant – they are the only two positive mitzvot whose non-observance carries the penalty of karet, excision. Ignoring these two mitzvot in tantamount to saying Judaism is irrelevant to me.

Tellingly, G-d told Moshe that not only those who through no fault of their own could bring the korban pesach a month later, even those who for no good reason failed to bring the korban pesachwould be given a second chance. We must always welcome those who want to be part of the community even, nay especially, those who have been remiss in their observance.

It is for this reason that we begin Yom Kippur – our other seder – by welcoming sinners to join us. If one shows up to shul we are to give them a hearty shalom aleichem. And it is why the Haggadah defines the rasha as one “who has removed himself from the community”.

If separation from the community makes one a rasha then it stands to reason that being part of the community – rejoicing with it in times of happiness and mourning in times of sorrow – make one a tzadik, righteous. And for those who want to join our people it is the commitment to community that matters most. 

When one comes to convert we are to begin the conversation as follows “What did you see that you want to convert? Don’t you know that the Jewish people at the present time are anguished, suppressed, despised, and harassed, and hardships are visited upon them? If he says: I know, and although I am unworthy we accept him immediately” (Yevamot 47a). Only after they declare their willingness to be part of the community for good and bad – only then, yet after we have already accepted them – do we teach them “some of the lenient mitzvot and some of the stringent mitzvot.”

Pesach more than any other holiday celebrates the Jewish people. Let us ensure we have an “outstretched arm” to welcome all who share the notion of Jewish peoplehood.

[1] For those who might want to quibble with my characterization of these holidays I say that Pesach is when we became a nation and Yom Kippur is the day we received the Torah (recall that the Torah given on Shavout did not last long) and is the day of drawing closer to G-d and man.

[2] The exceptions to this rule where one may bring the sacrifice over a more extended time frame need not concern us here.