Photo Credit: Asher Schwartz

Pesaḥ Sheni constitutes the first Hebrew festival established ‘from below’ & sets the precedent for all the holidays that would later fill the month of Iyar.

“There were men who had been contaminated by a human corpse and could not make the Pesaḥ offering on that day; so they approached Moshe and Aharon on that day. Those men said to him, ‘We are contaminated through a human corpse; why should we be diminished by not offering HaShem’s offering in its appointed time among the children of Israel?’
Moshe said to them, ‘Stand and I will hear what HaShem will command you.’
HaShem spoke to Moshe, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, saying: If any man will become contaminated through a human corpse or on a distant road, whether you or your generations, he shall make the Pesaḥ offering for HaShem in the second month, on the fourteenth day, in the afternoon, shall they make it; with matzot and bitter herbs shall they eat it. They shall not leave over from it until morning nor shall they break a bone of it; like all the decrees of the Pesaḥ offering shall they make of it…’” (Bamidbar 9:6-12)


The Torah establishes that Pesaḥ Sheni should be observed in Iyar – the second month of the internal Hebrew calendar.

In the first month, Nisan, liberation came from Above. The Creator tore nature asunder and took the children of Israel out from Egypt, where we had been enslaved and harshly persecuted for centuries. All the Israelites had to do to attain freedom was follow orders.

But in the month of Iyar, we see that the people took the initiative by demanding an additional opportunity to bring the Korban Pesaḥ. This should be understood as an expression of independence that caused additional Divine revelation to occur in response to demands from below. This fostered independence of thought amongst the people and taught us to consider for ourselves how the commandments of the Torah should be implemented in our world.

This spiritual independence has been an inherent feature of Israel’s identity ever since and has notably expressed itself through the participation of our sages in the development of halakha.

Nisan is the month of Israel’s freedom, but only under submission – which could be seen as a shortcoming in the Exodus. Because Iyar is a month that represents self-assertive liberation from below, it corrects this deficiency.

Therefore, on the main Pesaḥ festival in Nisan, it is forbidden to eat (or even own) ḥametz for an entire seven day period. Matza symbolizes Israel’s subordination to HaShem (using no products of our own “fermentation” – having no ideas of our own and only doing what we’re told). But on Pesaḥ Sheni, there is absolutely no requirement to avoid ḥametz, except for the actual moment when the korban Pesaḥ is being eaten.

What makes Pesaḥ Sheni so unique among our festivals is that it was initiated by the Israelites themselves, and serves as the archetype of a Hebrew festival that emerged at the initiative of the people from below. It’s therefore fitting that both Yom HaAtzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim – two festivals established on the Hebrew calendar in modern times as a result of Israel’s actions – likewise both occur in the month of Iyar.

Pesaḥ Sheni is also unique in that no similar mechanism exists for performing any other commandment that wasn’t performed in its proper time. If, for example, one were to miss fasting on Yom Kippur or the waving of the four species on Sukkot, there’s no provision for a make-up event a month later.

An exception is made only for Pesaḥ because Pesaḥ is the festival associated with Israel’s national birth. Connecting with our people’s collective story and mission is what gives all other mitzvot their true meaning and significance. This is why neglecting to bring the Korban Pesaḥ (like neglecting to perform Brit Mila) incurs the consequence of karet (being cut off from Israel’s collective national soul). And this is also why only Pesaḥ includes a built in opportunity for a second chance.

This point clarifies the relationship between the children of Israel and our Torah. National kedusha is the starting point for all other holiness as no one can possibly comprehend our Torah without first understanding Israel’s true identity.

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Rav Yehuda HaKohen is an organizer and educator living in northern Judea. As a leader in the Vision movement, he works to empower students and young professionals to become active participants in the current chapter of Jewish history.