essential not sacrificial
Today is many things.
It is 55 days that we have been sheltering in place in Philly. 29 days in the counting of the Omer. The 8th day of May. And the 14th day of the month of Iyyar, which among other things means it is also Pesach Sheni. Quite literally Passover, Take 2. I must be honest: while I have heard of it, until this year I have had zero emotional or spiritual connection to Pesach Sheni, which apparently occurs every year exactly one month after the first night of Pesach (14th of Nissan).
More than a month ago, as the shelter in place orders took effect just days after Purim, conversations on rabbinic listservs about Zoom Seders quickly led to half-serious/half-kidding comments about observing Pesach Sheni this year. I now find myself nostalgic for a time when it seemed beyond reasonable that this quarantine would not last more than a few weeks. And also in awe of all the public health professionals who have been finding a way to gradually release us into the reality that this pandemic is not temporary.
Just as the Rambam reminds us that there is rabbinic precedent for solo sedarim (by teaching us who asks the four questions when only one person is present), Pesach Sheni reminds us that there is biblical precedent for rearranging sacred time to meet real-time realities.
The origins of the holiday come from Bamidbar.
In the words of Rabbi Ariana Katz:
"In Bamidbar 9:10, G!d is swayed by the workers who explain they could not bring a sacrifice on Passover due to caring for the dead. G!d immediately creates Pesach Sheni, the Passover Mulligan.
"Pesach Sheni shows us how the calendar, the world, our communal resources must be turned on their head when the essential workers, the ones who come closest to death, are endangered.
"In this heart-wrenching piece from Sujatha Gidla in the New York Times on May 5, she writes:
"'The conditions created by the pandemic drive home the fact that we essential workers — workers in general — are the ones who keep the social order from sinking into chaos. Yet we are treated with the utmost disrespect, as though we're expendable. Since March 27, at least 98 New York transit workers have died of Covid-19. My co-workers say bitterly: "We are not essential. We are sacrificial."'
"Pesach Sheni calls us to create space for sacrifices to be brought--not made of the people themselves."
In many ways our holiday cycle, our festive times enumerated in this week's parsha, Emor, are the essential workers of Jewish tradition. They are the ones that knit us together through a shared understanding of sacred time, they keep communal practice from sinking into chaos.
Core to my personal theology is a belief in collective liberation. Which means that we must commit to building a world in which we are all treated as essential. This points me to a larger spiritual tension I am holding. To what extent are we called to sustain ourselves and each other in these times? And to what extent must we focus on supporting those beyond our personal orbit, especially those who are most vulnerable and at risk? The unhoused, the uninsured, the incarcerated. This tension is not new. This pandemic has taken a sledgehammer to societal injustice. It has crushed any facade that ever existed. And we are called to lift up the shards, to find the sparks of holiness, to be the broken vessel in which G!d can dwell.
On this Pesach Sheni, may we have the clarity and courage of heart to call on the miracles of Passover. To lift up the dignity of every person. If the sea could part then, it will again. May it be so, speedily and in our days.
Rabbi Ari Lev
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