Vol. 8 # 29 MY 3-4, '96
Pesach Sheni: MY 2-3, Lag B'Omer: MY 6-7
Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein firstname.lastname@example.org 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 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
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