Reading B’ha’alotkha this year, what jumps out at me is Pesah Sheni. God spoke to Moses saying, the children of Israel should make the Passover offering at the appropriate time. Except there were some people who couldn’t make the offering because they had come into contact with death. So they came to Moses and said, what about us? 

Moses asked God, and the answer he received was: anyone who couldn’t observe Passover at the right time, because of an encounter with death or because they were on a long journey, can make the offering at the next full moon. (Num. 9:10-12) In other words: if we miss the appropriate time and place for Pesah, we get a second chance.

We’ve all regretted something we didn’t manage to do. Maybe it’s something personal: I wish I’d done more to encourage people to vote. Maybe it’s something communal: the conversations we began after last month’s initial Israel/Palestine film screening were amazing, I wish we’d started listening and learning together years ago.

Here come these verses about Pesah Sheni to remind me it’s not too late. If there’s something that will bring us closer to God (remember, that’s what a korban / an offering was, from the root that means to draw near; and if the G-word doesn’t work for you, think Justice, or Compassion, or Truth) we get another opportunity.

Granted, Torah goes on to say that if we could’ve made the Pesah offering at the right time, and for some reason we just didn’t, “our soul will be cut off from our people.” (Num. 9:13) For me that’s a descriptive statement, not a prescriptive one. If we don’t engage in mitzvot or connect with community, we’re going to wind up feeling disconnected. 

So much in modern life can make us feel disconnected. I don’t think I need to list those things; I imagine each of us could make our own list. And this year, on top of that, painful divisions in Jewish community around Israel and Gaza have made many of us feel alienated and disconnected in spaces where we most yearn to feel otherwise. 

But Jewish life is predicated on the premise that community matters. And I increasingly believe that figuring out how to be in community even when our views on Palestine and Israel differ is some of the most important work we can do right now – as Jews, as Americans, as human beings. 

Recently I read an interview that Roxane Gay did with the author Lamya H, included at the end of the e-book of Lamya’s memoir Hijab Butch Blues. Lamya says:

“I was lucky enough to be part of a very intentional queer Muslim community…. Not everyone was someone I would be close friends with. But because we were building this thing that was deeply intentional, everyone showed up for everyone else. It’s where I learned a lot of organizing skills, in terms of navigating conflict and being around people whose politics are different from yours, who live in the world in ways that don’t match yours – but who you deeply, deeply connect with, and who become chosen family. Navigating all of those things taught me so much about the value of kindness.”

Roxane Gay responds, “When you engage in community with kindness, it makes it possible to navigate all kinds of terrain, both good and challenging.” I read that and I thought: this speaks to me as a member of a broad Jewish community that’s struggling with the challenge of deeply-held views on Israel and Palestine, all rooted in Jewish values, that don’t align.

This year some of us are grieving what our Israeli cousins are going through, and some of us are grieving what our Palestinian cousins are going through. We may feel that difference keenly. But I believe our hearts are big enough to hold it, alongside the common ground that we all want a better future for our beloveds in that beloved land. 

We all want a better future in this beloved land, too. When I read about the plan for a “post-Constitutional” Federal government or those who want this to be a “Christian nation” – when I think about other rights that we could lose – the stakes feel impossibly high. We need each other in Jewish community now more than ever. 

Which brings me back to this week’s parsha. The Hebrew word mitzvah / commandment is a close cognate to the Aramaic word tzavta / connection. A mitzvah is something that connects us: to God (whatever we understand that to mean), to tradition, to community, to each other, to ourselves. 

Torah’s talking about someone who missed Pesah because they were in contact with death or on a long journey. But Rashi expands that. He says, it doesn’t need to be a long journey that keeps us away from mitzvot and community. Even if we were just right outside the door, we can still seek a do-over. 

Framed in modern terms, we could say: no one’s going to police what’s kept us from the mitzvot, from community, from building a more just world. We might feel like our failure to do these things before disqualifies us from doing them now, but Torah says otherwise. Torah says, re-orient, re-align, and try again. That’s the work of teshuvah, which is the work of Jewish life.

In an ideal world, Pesah happens at the full moon of Nisan and sets us on a path toward covenant. “We were slaves to a Pharaoh in Egypt, and God brought us out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm: out of servitude and into holy service, partnering with God in building a more just world.” That’s our core story.

In an ideal world, we’re already on that journey. And if we’re not, it’s not too late to start. It’s not too late to welcome the refugee and protect the vulnerable and tend to the climate crisis and uplift human dignity. Like the saying goes about planting a tree: the best time to do it would’ve been then. The next best time is now. 

This is the d’varling Rabbi Rachel offered at Kabbalat Shabbat services (cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi).