Rav Yisroel Yitzchak haLevi Reisman, zt”l, was a Lelover chasid, born in the Old City of Yerushalayim. A trusted gabbai tzedaka, he served Hashem with extraordinary humility, and was invited by Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld to serve as a dayan, a judge for the Eida Chareidis. Known for his sweeping expertise in Shas and poskim, he was one of founders of Yeshivah Sefas Emes and, ultimately, became the raavad (rosh avos beis din) of Yerushalayim.
Rav Yisroel Yitzchok once arrived in Bnei Brak for a meeting with the elderly gadol hador, the Chazon Ish. As he was ushered into the office, he saw that the Chazon Ish was preoccupied, mentally absorbed, and, perhaps, unaware of his presence. “Shalom Aleichem,” he intoned gently, after waiting a minute or two, “may I ask what the rav is doing?” The Chazon Ish looked up and answered, “Aleichem Shalom. What am I doing? I am doing what Yidden do … I’m doing teshuvah!” The visiting dayan looked at the sage inquisitively. “I do a cheit, a sin, and then, I do teshuvah,” continued the Chazon Ish, “again, I sin … and again, I do teshuvah.”
One year after yetzias Mitzrayim on Rosh Chodesh Nissan, in the desert, Am Yisrael was commanded in bringing the korban Pesach. The people followed through and observed the Yom Tov, as Hashem had requested—except for one “unforeseen” issue:אִישׁ אִישׁ כִּי־יִהְיֶה־טָמֵא לָנֶפֶשׁ אוֹ בְדֶרֶךְ רְחֹקָה …
“Anyone who is ritually impure or on a distant road (and, as a result, is unable to bring the korban Pesach in the commanded time) …” (Bamidbar, 9:10)
A group of Jews were at that time tamei l’nefesh, ritually impure, having come into contact with death. When Chag haPesach came—meaning the 14th of Nissan—when the korbanos were to be offered, they were unable to bring a korban, as one can only bring the offering in a state of taharah. Not wanting to lose out on the mitzvah, however, “vayikrevu el Moshe—they drew close to Moshe,” and presented their sheilas rav: למה נגרע—“Why should we be prevented from bringing a korban and drawing close?”
Moshe responded, “Imdu, stay where you’re standing; please hold, I’ll ask Hashem and get back to you.” Moshe stepped away, rang the Ribbono shel Olam and received an immediate response: “Anyone who is tamei l’nefesh—and not only that, but anyone who is on a derech rechokah, a distant road, and not just now but for always—they shall bring a korban Pesach on the second month (Iyar), on the 14th day … ” They would have a second chance. They would have Pesach just like everyone else, only a month later.
Rebbe Yisroel of Ruzhin expounds upon the mishna (Pesachim, 93b): “What is the definition of a derech rechokah, a distant road? Rabbi Eliezer says it is מאסקופת העזרה ולחוץ—“from the threshold of the Azarah (Temple) courtyard and beyond.” This teaches us that a person can be zoche to arrive in Yerushalayim, ascend Har haBayis and even make it all the way to the entrance of the Azarah, the courtyard of the Beis Hamikdash—and yet, he still is on a “distant road,” he still has a long way to go, because he still sees himself as impure—in a state of cheit—having missed the mark. In his nefesh—his consciousness—he is not yet tahor, pure, and so, despite his physical proximity to where he is to bring the korban Pesach, this Jew experiences an inner distance.
We may be proficient in performing mitzvos, according to all the halachos and minhagim. We may be “close” to where we need to be, both physically and intellectually. Yet, at times, we can feel spiritually far away—baderech rechokah, as if we are on a distant road. It may seem as if we are unable and unworthy of entering the “courtyard” of Hashem’s Presence to “bring our offering.”
Reb Chatzkeleh of Kuzmir suggests an understanding of the roots of the Pesach Sheni narrative: “Imagine … A Jew is standing at the threshold of the Azarah, yet does not enter! Only because of our excessive, false humility and low self-esteem, we doubt ourselves, as if to say, ‘Who am I to approach this holy place?’ Prevented by haunting feelings of guilt and shame, again and again, we attempt to enter, but are not able. The distance is imagined; a construct of our yetzer hara and hardened hearts … Therefore, HaKadosh Baruch Hu says, ‘If so, just for that I will make a (new) Yom Tov for you, to show you how I desire your closeness!’”
A Jew once asked Rebbe Yisrael of Ruzhin, “Rebbe, I so deeply desire to do teshuvah, but I don’t know what to do about it.”
“And when doing an aveira, you knew what to do then?”
The Jew blushed and confessed, “Yes, but that was simple: I had a taavah, a desire, and I just acted upon it.”
“Aha,” said the Ruzhiner. “Exactly! Now do the same… You have a taavah for teshuvah; just act upon it!”
Pesach Sheini is the “headquarters” of our belief that desire for holiness—our taavah for another chance—matters. It is a divine invitation to collapse the imagined distance and just walk right into the “courtyards” of His presence.
No matter how far we may feel on our individual or collective derech rechokah—no matter our sense of tumah or lack—this Pesach Sheini, may we “do what Yidden do.” May we have the confidence and faith to take one more step toward actualizing our ratzon, and enter the realm of holiness.
Rav Judah Mischel is executive director of Camp HASC, the Hebrew Academy for Special Children. He is the mashpiah of OU-NCSY, founder of Tzama Nafshi and the author of “Baderech: Along the Path of Teshuva.” Rav Judah lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh with his wife Ora and their family.