In My Own Words: A second chance by Rabbi Rachel Esserman

A little known section of the Torah is giving people hope during the coronavirus crisis. At least that was the buzz on a Jewish list serve to which I belong. What am I talking about? Verses six-12 in chapter nine in the biblical book of Numbers speak about Passover Sheni – a second opportunity to celebrate Passover.

When it comes time for the Israelites to perform the Passover sacrifice during the second year they are in the desert, some men are unable to do so because they are ritually impure. God then tells Moses that these people can offer their sacrifices on the 14th day of the next month, which is known as Passover Sheni. This idea is resonating with people who are worried about celebrating Passover or simchas (happy events), which are either not going to take place or are taking place with far fewer people than normal.

Since we don’t know when life will go back to normal, I suggest we broaden the idea of Passover Sheni. For example, if a bar/bat mitzah is celebrated with only the immediate family, there is no reason that there can’t be a larger celebration in three months, or six, or nine, if God forbid it takes that long for the crisis to be over. What if people can’t afford that because they couldn’t get refunds on their deposits or are in financial trouble because of the crisis? Well, that’s what friends and family are for: We can create the celebration for them. Will it be the bash they might have had? I don’t think that really matters: what does matter is that the simcha is celebrated with those you love and those who love you.

What about funerals? Some states are only allowing the immediate family to be present. People are talking about virtual shiva minyans, which, while they may solve part of the problem, do not offer the same consolation. However, if you knew the person who passed away, how about writing a letter to the family? Tell them how much the deceased meant to you or share a story they might not know. Being able to savor those letters at their leisure may actually give them more comfort than if you were one of a hundred people they talked to during a day when they were in such shock and pain they might not remember your words. For those who still feel the need, a larger crowd at an unveiling, complete with speeches about the deceased, is another possibility. Or, if that’s not possible, the same thing can take place on the person’s yahrzeit (the anniversary of their death).

Of course, while some events can be postponed, others have to be permanently cancelled. That’s a great disappointment to many of us, but think of the important thing you are doing: keeping everyone healthy and alive. This may be harder for younger folks because they don’t have the same perspective as older people. Wisdom comes when you realize that every life contains disappointments and setbacks: this is only one of them. The hope is that, when life returns to normal, there will be different trips, concerts and theater performances to enjoy.

This is also a good opportunity to look around and appreciate what we do have. I’m not saying that we should never complain. In fact, feel free to kvetch – that’s actually healthy, as long as it doesn’t take over our lives. But we need to also keep an eye on the future: this crisis is going to be a big financial and emotional hit on the most vulnerable people in our community. We need to remember there are people who have it far worse. While this crisis is not easy on any of us, we need to believe we can make it through this – that the world and our community will continue. Well, that may not be true of everyone, so I remind you once again to make certain to tell those whom you care about and love just how much they mean to you, just in case.