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Pesach Sheini: An opportunity for second chances

Each year we celebrate Passover not once, but twice. Pesach sheini marked the day when someone who was unable to participate in the Paschal offering at the regular time could observe the mitzvah one month later. This year, Rabbi Irina Gritsevskaya, Executive Director of Midreshet Schechter, shares with us why it was so important for her to get this second chance to celebrate with her family. She spent the Seder nights in the Chernivtsi, Ukraine bringing prayers and hopes of redemption to the Midreshet Schechter-Masorti Olami refugee center.

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Pesach Sheini (Second Passover) was observed this year on the 14th of Iyar (May 15th).  The text in Numbers 9:6-7 teaches us that the Passover sacrifice was brought a year after the Exodus, on the afternoon of the fourteenth of Nissan. However, there were Israelites who had become ritually impure through contact with a dead body and, therefore, could not,  bring the Passover sacrifice that night. The Talmud in Tractate Succah 25 teaches that those people were the ones that carried Joseph’s coffin out of Egypt. They were performing a mitzvah, and thus they were given an unparalleled opportunity to prepare an offering a month later. They asked for it and they’ve got it.  

I love the culture that says Israel is a land of second chances. Not much of it is left today for the Second Passover: we don’t say tahanun, but we do eat matzah. I wish we would pay more tribute to this beautiful idea. In Israel, we celebrate the Aliya Day for everyone who has immigrated to Israel on the 7th of Heshvan, close to Parashat Lech Lecha. The original idea set down in the Law of Aliya was to celebrate it on the 10th of Nisan, the day when Israelites crossed the Red Sea. Because the date was too close to Passover it was changed. If you ask me, the 14th of Iyar, the second Passover, is a good opportunity to celebrate your second chance. For me, aliya was a chance to start a new adventure. 

This year on Pesach Sheini I ate some matzah with my three children, thinking about the lost opportunity to spend the Passover Eve with them because, as those who carried Joseph’s coffin, I was performing a mitzvah. I spent this year’s Passover in Chernovtsi, Ukraine. Chernovtsi is a beautiful town in Bukovina, on the border with Romania. Because of its location, it is relatively safe, therefore Midreshet Ukraine together with our partners at Masorti Olami opened a refugee center there. It was incredible to spend time with 110 Jews (the maximum capacity of the hall we could rent): half of them were members of local communities and half were refugees, mainly from Kyiv and Kharkiv. When the Seder was over, people came to me and said that they will never forget this Passover during wartime, the unity and God’s presence inside and the sirens outside. I will never forget it either. 

In Chernivtsi it  was not hard to see ourselves as if we came out of Egypt. We celebrated our freedom, despite being unable to get back to our homes, being separated from our families, and being tormented by the experiences of war. The sincerity of the Shehecheyanu blessing and the joy of being together were palpable in the air.  

The late addition to the Hagadah: “Shpoch Chamatcha- pour out your wrath” When you get to the passage that blames your enemies and turns to get revenge, there is always an ambiguity was emotionally discussed. There is always an ambiguity when you get to the passage that blames your enemies and turns to get revenge. There were even attempts to replace the passage with a different one that starts with the words “Pour out your love”, a 20thcentury addition to the text. This time I realized that when you have to run away for your life, with bombs falling just next to you, leaving your home and family behind, there are emotions that can find a way to be expressed through our sacred text. 

Finally, eating matzah was meaningful. It was not only the symbol of the redemption, that we all longed for, but also of Jewish unity. This year the matzah did not come from Ukraine but from abroad. That was a powerful symbol, that Ukrainian Jews are not forgotten. Jews around the world help and take care of them, making sure that they will have a meaningful Seder. After three months of war it seems to have become our new reality, other news has taken its place in our media, but eating matzah during Passover in Ukraine meant that Ukrainian Jews will not be forgotten. 

Shavua Tov from Schechter 

**Beginning immediately after Pesach and until August, Parashat Hashavua in the Diaspora is one week ‘behind’ the Parasha in Israel. Shavua Tov@Schechter will follow the Diaspora schedule.

Irina Gritsevskaya is the Executive Director of Midreshet Schechter. She holds an LL.B. from Hebrew University in Jerusalem, an LL.M., and was ordained by the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary. A native of St. Petersburg, Rabbi Gritsevskaya made aliya as a teenager and currently lives in Tel Aviv.

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