I have often wondered – both to myself and aloud – how any human being, whatever their race or religion, can possibly manage without our Jewish festivals. Anyone who doesn’t know Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, or Pesach, Shavu’ot and Sukkot, is seriously deprived. And how about the so-called minor festivals – Chanukah, Purim, Lag Ba’Omer and Tu BiSh’vat? Or the fast days, Tishah B’Av and the others?
The question can also be asked about a festival of which even Jews themselves are generally unaware – Pesach Sheni, the Second Passover, which is enacted in Bamidbar 9:9-14. It allows an Israelite who was unable to keep the regular Pesach because he was away on a journey or in a state of ritual defilement to keep a substitute Pesach.
Pesach Sheni has left few traces in post-Biblical Jewish life, but its message remains valid – that the Almighty understands that sometimes there is an emergency which makes life difficult.
The problem these days is that people are all too ready to claim an emergency and seek an excuse for not doing what they really should and could. I have so often been asked, “Can’t you give me a dispensation?” Unfortunately for the questioner, rabbis cannot and do not hand out dispensations.
True, there is a principle of pikku’ach nefesh, emergency to life or health, which can temporarily override a religious obligation, but people should not turn every hiccup into a full pikku’ach nefesh.
The beginning of the sidra conveys this implication when it warns the kohanim to restrict their pikku’ach nefesh to genuine situations which it sets out in detail to prevent any misunderstanding.