By Rabbi Jaclyn Rubin-Blaier
We have all heard stories that take place “in a land far, far away.” But how far, exactly, is far, far away? Our daf attempts to answer that question when discussing Pesach Sheni, a second chance to bring the Passover offering for those who missed it on the 14th of Nisan due to corpse impurity or “a long journey” (Numbers 9:10-11).
The Mishnah cites two opinions as to what counts as “a long journey”: Rabbi Akiva holds that it is a distance of about twenty miles, while Rabbi Eliezer holds it is the distance from outside the threshold of the Temple courtyard to the center of the Temple. In other words, according to Rabbi Eliezer, anyone who is not in the Temple itself on Passover is eligible for a second chance due to being on a “long journey.”
In the course of examining Rabbi Akiva’s opinion, the Talmud mentions that one can walk five mil (10,000 cubits or about three miles) between dawn (when light first appears in the sky) and sunrise. Proof of this is taken from the story of Abraham’s nephew Lot’s flight from the doomed city of Sodom:
The story is one of misplaced good intentions. Lot was a good man living in a bad place — so bad, in fact, that God decided to destroy the city. Lot offers hospitality to the angels God sends to warn him of the upcoming destruction. When the townspeople demand Lot hand over his guests, Lot (with good though misguided intentions) offers his virgin daughters instead. When the angels tell Lot what is about to happen and that he and his family must flee, he hesitates to the point that the angels need to drag him along. He begs the angels to let him stop at a nearby town (called Zoar). There, he sees Sodom obliterated in fire and brimstone. Finally, when his daughters believe they are the last humans alive, they (again with good though misguided intentions) trick their father into committing incest in an attempt to sustain humanity.
On a simple level, the verse about Lot’s journey to Zoar, a three mile journey that begins at dawn and ends at sunrise, is quoted on our daf to indicate how far a person can travel in a particular amount of time. Taking into account the context of Lot’s story, however, the use of the verse also offers a subtle critique of those who miss Passover because of a long journey.
Pesach Sheni is introduced in Numbers in response to people who cannot offer the regular Passover offering because of corpse impurity. Their impurity is due to an event that cannot be planned for and that must be taken care of immediately. Then, the second chance is also offered to those who miss Passover because they are on a long journey. Though the Torah finds this a reasonable excuse, it seems the rabbis here would encourage people to plan their journeys around Passover.
Or perhaps, like the interpretation that a “long journey” simply means outside of the Temple courtyard, Lot’s hesitation stands in for an emotional or spiritual distance. Lot hesitated; he didn’t miss his deadline, but that is only because of divine intervention. Lot was meant to go further, but he lacked the energy and begged to stop at a nearby town. And perhaps it is this spiritual distance that needs to be overcome, according to the rabbis.
In what ways do our emotional and spiritual distances separate us from things that are important, and in what can we do to overcome those obstacles? While the Torah offers a second chance, recognizing that we cannot always do things perfectly or according to plan, the rabbis urge us to examine our motives, to understand what creates distance even as we work to minimize that distance with second chances.