FOMO and the Question of Pesach Sheni
By Avi Orlow
On the first anniversary of Passover — one year after the Exodus from Egypt — the people were instructed to offer the Paschal Lamb sacrifice as they did in Egypt. This plan did not work out for everyone. Since some of the people were doing the holy work of dealing with the dead they had come into contact with human corpses, were ritually impure, and could not participate in this rite. As we read:
Appearing that same day before Moshe and Aaron, those men said to them, “Unclean by reason of a corpse, why must we be denied from presenting the Lord’s offering at its set time with the rest of the Israelites?” (Numbers 9:6-7)
Moshe asked them to wait while he asked God for the answer for their query. God’s response is Pesach Sheni. This Friday is the day when those that were left out of the communal experience of Passover are invited back for a do-over.
We jump from their question right to God’s answer: these Israelites were allowed to offer the Paschal Lamb sacrifice a month later. What the story doesn’t explore, however, are what motivated them to approach Moshe and Aaron with their question in the first place. What were their emotions while waiting for an answer? Surely, it must have been painful for them to be denied this central communal experience. These Israelites were “essential workers” who were caring for their community. They were being excluded and clearly yearned to be part of the group. It could be argued that this was the original case of FOMO (fear of missing out).
The theme of “yearning” has always been poignant to me, and seems to take on particular resonance this year. Many of our children feel this sense of yearning right now after hearing that their camp will not or might not run this summer. And even though we know that someday this pandemic will pass and we can return, it doesn’t mitigate the sense of loss we are experiencing in this moment.
When my father passed away, I read many books of grief and loss. One quote that has stuck with me comes from Martin Prechtel’s The Smell of Rain on Dust: Grief and Praise. He writes:
Grief expressed out loud for someone we have lost, or a country or home we have lost, is in itself the greatest praise we could ever give them. Grief is praise, because it is the natural way love honors what it misses.
Before we run ahead to meet the demands of the day — and we will — let’s reflect on this praise for what our children miss. Our campers and staff members who will be stuck at home feel homeless without camp.
In a poem about Israel, Yehuda HaLevi, the 12th Century Spanish Jewish physician, poet and philosopher, wrote, “ My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west”. Similarly our teens who were going to go to Israel- long for a homeland thousand of miles away where they have never been. They are yearning to be part of Jewish Life. This crisis has been unsettling, but the tribute being paid to the places we call home is a foundation upon which to build. We will figure out our do-over to reconvene as a community, but today on the answer of Pesach Sheni let’s honor the question. Let’s honor our children’s yearning.
Rabbi Avi Orlow is the vice president of innovation and education at Foundation for Jewish Camp. Before joining Foundation for Jewish Camp in 2008, Avi was the Campus Rabbi and Assistant Director of the St. Louis Hillel at Washington University and has held numerous positions as rabbi, educator, and youth leader. He spent 17 years as a camper and then educator at Ramah Camps in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and YUSSR camps in the Former Soviet Union. Avi has a B.A. in religious studies from Columbia University. He was ordained in the charter class at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, the open Orthodox rabbinical school. Avi lives in White Plains with his wife, Cantor Adina Frydman, and their children, Yadid, Yishama, Emunah, and Libi.