In April 1945—two days after Buchenwald had been liberated, and a week after Passover had ended—survivors at the camp gathered for a belated holiday celebration where they eagerly ate shards of matzah and celebrated their freedom alongside that of their ancestors in Egypt. Meir Soloveichik notes the similarities between this moving, ad-hoc ceremony and the biblical Pesaḥ sheni, literally “Second Passover.”
The origin of “Second Passover” is described in the book of Numbers, in a tale that occurred one year after the Exodus itself. Remembering the liberation a year before, the Israelites in the desert assemble to sacrifice the paschal lamb, as they had in Egypt twelve months prior. Several Israelites, however, had just recently buried a dead body; this contact necessitated a seven-day ritual defilement, preventing them from engaging in sacrificial rituals associated with the tabernacle. . . . For these individuals, defiled by the dead, to be sidelined from the celebration was to be cut off from “among the children of Israel,” from their very portion in the people itself.
In response, the Almighty informs Moses that from then on, a day would be set aside, a month after Passover, for the bringing of the paschal offering by those previously prevented from doing so—for those in a state of defilement because of the burial of a loved one, and for those who could not reach Jerusalem in time for Passover.
Though the day is not named in the Bible, it was Jewish tradition that lovingly bestowed the phrase “Second Passover” upon it, capturing how it symbolized a second chance to celebrate freedom, the potential for a second opportunity for celebration when the first was lost.
Is there a better parallel to the origin of Second Passover—those defiled by the dead ultimately celebrating freedom—than a liberation celebration of survivors following an encounter with the ultimate embodiment of death? And is there a biblical day, established so many millennia ago, whose symbolism more strikingly joins together all the modern markings this month, of the Holocaust and the birth of Israel, of Jewish life after Jewish death?