Pesah Sheni as a therapeutic holiday

It seems that before our eyes Pesah Sheni is becoming a holiday of second chances, of no one to be excluded from Israel, of confronting the other, and GLBT identity. It seems to have happened very quickly both here and in Israel.

Traditionally, pesah sheni Torah was about those who carried Yosef’s bones. In the middle ages it was the last chance to see the miracle of the Exodus and bask in how God is above the natural order. And there is some Polish Hasidic Torah about hametz and matzah being at the same time.

In the 1920s, Rabbi Yosef Yitzhak Schneerson taught about how no simple unlettered Jews is far from God – in contrast to the rigid hierarchy of Lithuanian Jewry. He developed the Lamed-Vavnik stories. A burning heart is more important than cold intellect. And Pesah Sheni is a second chance for all those who where far away. It was a noble message for an era of immigration and dispersion. Simple yidden, however, went out of fashion in the post WWII era

In, 1978 the Rebbe, Menachem Schneersohn told over the teaching of Pesah sheni as a second chance.

Pesach Sheni gives those who did not offer the Pesach sacrifice the first time the opportunity to do so a month later. Its message is that nothing is irretrievable, that a Jew can always rehabilitate himself.
One clear lesson from Pesach Sheni is that a Jew need never give up hope. In the words of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe: “The idea of Pesach Sheni is that nothing is irretrievable; we can always rectify our behavior. Even one who was ritually unclean or who was on a distant journey – even willingly – can still rehabilitate himself.” A Jew is intrinsically good, his soul “a part of G-d Above.” Sin is completely antithetical to his nature. If he does transgress, it is an aberration that cannot touch his essential self. He may be temporarily unclean, but he is of the loftiest levels. Thus no sin, no omission of service to G-d, is irretrievable. A Jew can always return to his real identity. Likkute Sichos XII 5738, emor 216-220

That same year Reb Shlomo Carlebach added it to his repertoire of holy sinners and deepest desires. By the millennium it has shifted into English Breslov, BT literature, and web Torah, but as part of other homilies.

But about two years ago, we see a combustion. This is now a time when all those who need a second chance have their holiday. Almost any metaphors of 12 step, broken pieces, shattered lives has made its way into pesah sheni Torah, from all sorts of kiruv and self-help sources. (There is enough for grad student to collect and sort it out.) Here is the holiday to ask for a second chance. A holiday to celebrate out therapeutic individualist Judaism. Whereas Rebbe Yosef Yitzhak was dealing with actually displacement of war and famine, now we have a acute sense by many in the community they do not share the idealized image of the frum community and need to be made welcome again.

The holiday picks up steam last year there was a widely circulated blog post discussing it as a holiday for GLBT exclusion.. In addition, Rav Cherlow gave a pesah sheni talk on the need to confront the other and this year on the need to accept gays in the community. Finally, this year Kolech proclaimed it a day of inclusion of all. Here is a Forward Blog giving a post to the topic from the lesbian and Kolech angle. There are articles in the Israeli papers worth reading on the event.

But what I am noticing on this one is that the individualism of the kiruv organization, yeshivish self help and Neo-hasidism is overlapping in a metaphor and a holiday with the liberal voices of Kolech. There is a social reality of exclusion needing homilies of inclusion and a reality of therapeutic Torah. Next year, let’s see how this plays itself out.

3 responses to “Pesah Sheni as a therapeutic holiday

  1. You omit an important detail here. Someone actually send me the three maymorim yesterday (I cant read this anymore). Including the one you quote from Lamed Hes. All the maymorim where said on the yahrzeit of Yisroel Are Leib, the Rebbes brother on the 13th. YAL was openly nonreligious, hence the personal theme in this message. The Rebbe was talking about his own brother.

  2. Interesting. I commented to someone today that suddenly Pesach Sheni has catapaulted from total obscurity to cultish proportions.

  3. I told this over on Shabbos and said that Rabbinic Judaism as currently prayed out is not a culture of “second chances” (in contrast to the Chumash which is full of second chances).

    My wife noted that we live in a culture that cannot tolerate the idea of failure or that one has to spend the next 30 years doing Teshuva for ones Aveiros. So, therefore, we now need a holiday of second chances.

    I suppose that the reason why Pesach Sheni is a great holiday to take on completely new meanings is because it is on every Orthodox Jews’ calendar, but has little actual content/substance. It’s also easy to practice by just eating leftover matzah & thinking about second chances.

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