Parshas Emor

Vol. 8 # 29 MY 3-4, '96

Pesach Sheni: MY 2-3, Lag B'Omer: MY 6-7

Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein Ph.

Kohanim, Tahara (Purity), Prophecy and the Supernatural

The Kohein must refrain from contact with the dead. Kohanim are only permitted to attend the funerals of close relatives (parents, siblings, children, spouse). The last parsha concluded with warning concerning sorcerers who conjured up the dead. Our parsha begins with laws refraining Kohanim from any connection with the dead. Rav Chaim Paltiel writes: "The reason is because many Kohanim were prophets (e.g. Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zachariah) and those who weren't might be jealous of their brothers. They would be likely to seek supernatural means of determining the future; therefore, the Kohein is particularly warned to avoid contact with the dead. The supernatural methods use the forces of contamination." (See Commentary to Ba'al Haturim.)

Pesach Sheni (Second Passover)

The Torah institutes a second Pesach offering for those who missed out on the first. Thirty days after Erev Pesach (when the lamb-sacrifice was offered), opportunity was given for those who were unprepared for the first Paschal lamb to make up for having missed it. Anyone who had been defiled from contact with the dead, or had been unable to make the journey to Jerusalem, would have to come for the Pesach Sheni.

Pesach Sheni was not a holiday; Chametz (leaven) was allowed, but the sacrifice had the same laws as the Pesach itself, and had to be eaten with the Matza and bitter herb.

The Torah says that one who willfully misses the first Pesach without excuse would be punished with Kores (excision); nonetheless, the final law is that even one who was negligent in the first Pesach is given opportunity to partake of the second one. However, Rambam writes that if such an individual misses the second one -- for any reason -- he cannot escape culpability. It has been shown from these laws that excuses only help where the circumstances were truly unavoidable!

Why was this particular day chosen for Pesach Sheni? What is the significance of the fourteenth of Iyar, thirty days after Erev Pesach? The Ba'al Haturim offers an explanation.

The Calendar

The Hebrew dating method was not based on a set calendar. The month actually corresponded to the moon (In the secular Gregorian calendar, the "month" no longer begins or ends with a new moon. There sometimes may occur two moons in a month. This is the "blue moon" and the source of the expression, 'Once in a blue moon,' meaning: 'every so often, there may be a second moon in one month!') In the Hebrew calendar, witnesses actually spot the moon. Then the new month is sanctified.

The leap year had to be an extra month, because twelve moons makes only 354 days. Every three years or so, an entire thirty days needs to be added, to keep the years in sync with the seasons. The only month to be added (at the discretion of the Court), was an extra Adar, preceding Pesach.

Consequently, in a normal year, it would not be known until very close to Pesach if Pesach would occur at the usual time, or thirty days later! It is almost to say that there is inherent sanctity in this day; if the court so chooses, they could cause the fourteenth of Iyar to be sanctified as Pesach itself. Therefore, even when it is not sanctified as Pesach, it is still used to commemorate Pesach in the form of Pesach Sheni. (There are beautiful ramifications regarding G-d's determinations and our free will. G-d commanded that the day be potentially sanctified; it would be up to the human courts to determine the actual degree of sanctity!)

Another explanation is offered by the Ba'al Haturim. The matza that the Israelites brought with them was finished on this day. The following day, the manna fell for the first time. (Pesach Sheni was the day of the slaughter of the second lamb; it would be eaten on the following day -- that is, nightfall on the fifteenth of Iyar [Ateres Adar]. This is the same date on which the manna first fell!) Pesach Sheni thus commemorates the conclusion of the matza from Egypt and the beginning of the miracle of the manna. (Rav Yaakov Emden says a similar explanation that was 'revealed to him from heaven.')

The Eighteenth of Iyar

It is known, however, that the Chasom Sofer quoted a medrash that the manna fell on the eighteenth of Iyar for the first time (Responsa: Yoreh Deiah 236). This date corresponds to Lag B'Omer.

In our parsha, Nachmanides explains that the 49 days between Pesach and Shavuos (the festival of weeks, after seven weeks are counted) were meant to be joyous days, similar to the Chol Hamo'ed (intermediate days of the festival). Yet, today -- for mysterious reasons -- it is a period of semi-mourning, except for Lag B'Omer, which is a celebration.

Maharil relates that Rabbi Akiva's many students died during 32 days of this period. Since Lag B'Omer is the 33rd day, we celebrate, for 32 days have passed. This could explain the mourning customs, but does not make Lag B'Omer a celebration! (The students may actually have died on this date -- it is not that they died on the first 32 days... the uniqueness of the 33rd is only that it is more than 32, and there were 32 days on which they died).

Rav Tzadok miLublin concludes: Lag b'Omer is the Yairzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the teacher of the Zohar. He was Rabbi Akiva's greatest student. It is really a celebration for the enduring qualities of Rabbi Akiva's teaching (Pri Tzadik).

The Shem Aryeh explains: Rabbi Shimon, too, was supposed to die -- the Romans had issued a decree that he be killed. He survived miraculously. This could never be ascertained, however, for as long as he was alive the Romans could still murder him. Only when he died peaceably, could the great miracle of his survival and the continued glow of Rabbi Akiva's Torah be recognized.

Copyright © Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Genesis, '97