“The Convert and the Second Passover”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat B’ha’a’lot’cha, we learn of the fascinating law of פֶּסַח שֵׁנִיPesach Shay’nee, the “makeup date” for those who were unable to keep Passover on its proper date, the 15th day of Nissan.

The Torah, in Numbers 9:10-11, reads as follows, דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר,  אִישׁ אִישׁ כִּי יִהְיֶה טָמֵא לָנֶפֶשׁ אוֹ בְדֶרֶךְ רְחֹקָה לָכֶם אוֹ לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם, וְעָשָׂה פֶסַח לַהשׁם. בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשֵּׁנִי בְּאַרְבָּעָה עָשָׂר יוֹם בֵּין הָעַרְבַּיִם יַעֲשׂוּ אֹתוֹ,  עַל מַצּוֹת וּמְרֹרִים יֹאכְלֻהוּ , G-d spoke to Moses saying, “Speak to the Children of Israel: If any man will become contaminated through a human corpse or on a distant road, whether you or your generations, he shall make the Pesach offering for the L-rd. In the second month, on the fourteenth day in the afternoon shall he make it; with Matzot and bitter herbs shall he eat it.”

Because celebrating the Passover and valuing freedom is so essential to Jewish identity, the ritual observance of Passover may not be skipped or omitted. Also, since celebrating Passover is a positive commandment whose punishment for neglecting it is כָּרֵתKarayt, excision, a person who misses observing Passover because he/she was in a state of ritual impurity or unable to get to Jerusalem on time, must observe it a month later (Passover 5763-2003).

This law in itself is fascinating. But, equally fascinating, at least, is the concluding verse concerning the second Passover, that is found in Numbers 9:14, וְכִי יָגוּר אִתְּכֶם גֵּר וְעָשָׂה פֶסַח לַהשׁם, כְּחֻקַּת הַפֶּסַח וּכְמִשְׁפָּטוֹ כֵּן יַעֲשֶׂה,  חֻקָּה אַחַת יִהְיֶה לָכֶם וְלַגֵּר וּלְאֶזְרַח הָאָרֶץ , When a convert shall dwell with you, he shall make a Passover offering to the L-rd; according to the decree of the Passover offering and its law, so shall he do; one decree shall be for you, and the proselyte and the native of the land.

The Ramban says that this law comes to teach that not only do the converts in the time of the Egyptian exodus need to observe Passover, but that all future converts, even those who did not personally experience the exodus, must participate equally in the observance of Passover

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch  expresses it beautifully by saying that this particular mitzvah points to the complete equality of every convert to Judaism, in every way, in the eyes of the Torah, “For by his [the convert’s] thus celebrating the Passover lamb, the whole Jewish past becomes his too, and…any difference in his treatment, socially or legally, which might be incited by reference to where he came from, is completely eliminated.”

Rabbi Hirsch points out that the law of the convert is recorded in the passage concerning the second Passover, because one might think that a convert, as part of Israel, must participate with the rest of the community of Israel, on the official date, the fifteenth of Nissan. However, a convert who converted to Judaism after the celebration of Passover might not have to celebrate that particular year. חֻקָּה אַחַת , the Torah declares that there is only one statute that applies to both Jews and to converts. The convert is equally obligated to observe the second Passover, as are all Jews born to Judaism.

The ArtScroll Chumash commentary explains that all Jews are holy because they have holy souls. According to the Midrash, the corruption of Egypt was so great that the Jews in Egypt reached the 49th level of impurity. Had the corruption gone one level further, their holy souls would have been destroyed or lost. Therefore, the significance of the exodus from Egypt, which rescued all Jewish souls from ultimate contamination and destruction, is of particular importance, and must be observed by all–those who are born Jewish and those who converted to Judaism.

The Talmud in P’sachim discusses a fascinating rule regarding Passover. The law requires that every person who joins in the celebration of Passover, who eats the Pascal sacrifice, must be designated as a member of a group. Whether participating as one family or several families, every participant must be personally invited and certified as a member of that group.

The Talmud in P’sachim 91b declares that a Passover group may not be composed entirely of converts. The reason cited by the Talmud for not allowing exclusive groups of converts to celebrate Passover together is because converts are so diligent and careful in the performance of mitzvot, that they will inevitably accept upon themselves unnecessary stringencies, which will possibly result in a violation of the proper observance.

The Talmudic reasoning is a fascinating sociological observation about not only converts to Judaism, but also about Jews who have returned to Jewish observance, who are often significantly more conscientious about their observance, than those who were raised observant.

The whole issue of stringency in Judaism is a rather fascinating topic. Often, a person in doubt, chooses to follow the more stringent practice. That is why it is often said that super-observance often reflects doubt and ignorance. If one were properly schooled, and had sufficient mastery of the information, one would have no doubts. It takes a genuine scholar and a knowledgeable person to choose the more lenient path. The less knowledgeable person is always afraid of making a mistake and frequently chooses the more severe practice.

The laws of Pesach Sheni, the second Passover, not only inform us of the true reasons for Passover observance, but also enlighten us about important practices in determining Jewish law.

May you be blessed.