Pesach Sheni (Hebrew: פסח שני, Wednesday IS Second Passover) occurs every year on 13 Iyar. This is exactly one month after 13 Nisan, the day before Passover, which was the day prescribed for bringing the Korban Pesach (“Paschal offering”, i.e. Passover lamb) in anticipation of that holiday. As described in the source text for this mitzvah (Numbers 9:1-14), the Israelites were about to celebrate Passover one year after leaving Egypt.
The offering of the Korban Pesach was at the core of that celebration. However “certain men” were ritually impure from contact with a human corpse and were, therefore, ineligible to participate in the Korban Pesach. Faced with the conflict of the requirement to participate in the Korban Pesach and their ineligibility due to impurity, they approached Moses and Aaron for instructions, which resulted in the communication of the law of Pesach Sheni. During Pesach Sheni, it is not necessary to remove all leaven from the home. The festival is only one day this time, rather than seven.
The celebration of a second Passover finds its roots in the teaching of the Scriptures. A year after the exodus from Egypt, God instructed the Israelites to remember the night of the Passover of the death angel of any Jewish home that had been sprinkled with the lamb’s blood. They were to celebrate the feast and bring an offering to God in its honor. They were to eat the roasted lamb, together with matzah and bitter herbs, as they had done the previous year when they left Egypt.
Numbers 9:6-7 recount that certain individuals had become ritually unclean and could not participate in the Passover. Some of the men approached Moses and Aaron and were concerned that they were going to be deprived of the chance to be right with God. They asked what should be done, and in response, God allowed for a “second chance” for the celebration of the Passover a month later.
Customs and Rituals
According to Numbers 9:9-13, a Jew may participate in Pesach Sheni if (s)he is ritually impure due to contact with a dead body or were on a distant journey. Over the years, the definition of “distant journey” has been interpreted very liberally by the rabbinic tradition. Anyone who had any type of ritual impurity would also be included in the ceremony.
The particulars of the sacrifice and meal would be the same as Passover. The differences would include the shifting from a seven-day festival to a one-day event. Another difference would be the acceptance of leaven in the household, though it still would be absent from the bread that day. The overriding theme of the day is that God allows second chances for His people.
Funerals, Shiva, and Jewish Mourning During Pesach Sheni
Jewish teaching provides specific guidelines for how the deceased should be properly mourned by the family through defined Periods of Mourning in Judaism.
The Jewish burial has unique and specific requirements; most notably, the burial usually takes place within a couple of days after the death. It is usually a time of stress and busyness for the family, as many decisions and details surrounding the funeral must be considered. A telephone call relaying personal condolences would be welcomed.
After the burial, the first a period of mourning begins. Shiva (meaning “seven”) consists of seven days of mourning during which family members remain in their home.
Since Pesach Sheni is a one-day event, those holding a burial and funeral [/learning-center/death-and-mourning/burial/] or participating in the practices, rituals, and traditions of Jewish mourning would treat the day as a Sabbath. Therefore, if the burial took place on a Friday morning, the family would mourn until two and a half hours before sunset and then prepare to go to the synagogue for service. He/she is allowed to bathe and change clothing.
The mourner may go to the public service but is not to lead in any of the events. He/she is allowed to sing praises on the Sabbath. At the conclusion of the service, he/she is to remove his shoes. Once he/she is back home, one should immediately change back into the clothing worn for the shiva mourning period.
Because of the sensitive nature of the time of loss, a Rabbi should be consulted for proper procedures for mourning during Passover. The Rabbi will take into account the circumstances, traditions, and Scripture and offer guidance.
Remembering Loved Ones During Pesach Sheni
At the close of the day of Pesach Sheni, there is a prescribed time to commemorate, honor and reflect on deceased loved ones. The Yizkor (also Yiskor) is a special memorial service held four times a year. Passover Yizkor was one of the four services. Yizkor is the Hebrew word for “remembrance.” This dedicated part of the service is considered one of the most recognized times to remember the deceased.
Because Jewish festivals contain moments of remembrance and family, the minor holiday of Pesach Sheni is an appropriate time to honor deceased family members as well. Lasting tributes such as contributions to charities, hospitals or hospices, synagogues or other organizations provide meaningful memorials for departed loved ones.
The tradition of inscribing one’s name in the book of life is a common occurrence in the Jewish faith. Families may visit the cemetery and place a stone at the graveside, plant a tree in Israel or dedicate a name plaque. Other meaningful and appropriate ways to memorialize a loved one include the creation of a Plaque and Memory page online through the National Jewish Memorial Wall (NJMW.org). The inclusion on a memorial or yahrzeit wall is a meaningful way to show honor and respect for the deceased.