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Do We Deserve Second Chances? #731

06/17/2022 06:07:25 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashat Beha'alotcha

Do We Deserve Second Chances?


A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon an article that discussed the idea of “second chances.”

It posed a simple question to more than 1,000 subjects: “Is there some part of your life, which you wish you could repeat - hopefully with better results?”

About 69 per cent said that if they could, they would embrace a “second chance” to overturn a decision or retract a behavior that occurred at some point in their life.

One third said they would choose a different field of work, 16 per cent reflected that they would reconnect with someone they’d lost touch with, and 12 per cent said they would like to revisit a failed relationship.

What difference would that make?

About 65 per cent reported that a second chance would make them happier. One in five said it would provide them with a sense of fairness – even a feeling of closure.

Of those surveyed, only 4 per cent said revisiting past failures would have no impact on their lives.

This brings us to this week’s Torah portion, titled Beha’alotcha, and termed by some as the parashah of “second chances.”

In this Torah portion, we learn that Moses’ marriage to Tzipora has collapsed. We’ve seen this coming. On various occasions, Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, has warned Moses against taking on too much and working long hours.

Jethro counsels Moses to delegate some of his workload. But as some rabbis have surmised, Moses appears more dedicated toward his duties as God’s servant, than to his role as an attentive husband and father. 

We then learn that Moses has remarried. There is a lot of speculation regarding who this person is, but clearly his decision does not sit well with everyone.

Miriam, Moses’ sister, begins to gossip, noting twice that, “He married a Cushite woman.” Cush was a nation located in northern Africa. 

I always imagine that Moses was a better husband to his new wife than he was to Tzipora.

parashah of second chances.

We also learn that Miriam’s negative words (lashon harah) angers God, and she is punished with the affliction of a skin disease. After quarantining for seven days, she returns to camp, physically and spiritually healed.

She has been given a second chance.

And then there is the person who did not have the opportunity to celebrate Passover. Perhaps that person was ill, or was deemed impure, or in later centuries was on a voyage or was otherwise unable to make it to Jerusalem for the Seder.

Enter the idea of Pesach Sheni, a second Passover. The Torah establishes a second opportunity for someone - one month later - to celebrate Pesach.

What an interesting idea.

Too often these days, Jews – along with many observing other religions -- fervently follow what they believe are fixed rituals without really knowing their origin.

Too much of what we practice has been taught to us by well-meaning parents or grandparents, who - in the old country - were often taught the hows, but not always the whys.

Maybe that’s why the Torah, this week, introduces the idea of second chances, reinforcing the belief that while performing a mitzvah in its time is indeed preferable, the intent is just as, if not more important.

Our tradition also teaches us that many of our errors are learning experiences.

Psychotherapist Karen Wolfers Rapaport notes:

“Life gives us many second chances. And each time we choose to live consciously and move from judgment to compassion, apathy to care, idleness to activity, we begin to reconnect and travel towards home.”

Judaism has considerable tolerance for human error. It understands that many of the mistakes we make come from lack of experience or gaps in our personal development.

The error comes when we don’t learn from our mistakes, and therefore repeat the same insensitive behavior.

Within the Orthodox tradition, one of the confessions made on Yom Kippur is for behaviors committed “from a confused heart.” That phrase encompasses so much.

So what would we do with a second chance?

The Torah tells us that our forefather, Jacob, after spending a night wrestling with his inner angels, begins to walk with a limp. I’ve always regarded that condition as a manifestation of his imperfect youth. 

He cannot change the past or take back his mistakes, but – like each of us - he can move forward, albeit with an inner limp.

Moses and Miriam are given an opportunity in this week’s Torah portion to elevate their behavior, and so are those who missed the original Passover.

Indeed, the concept of Pesach Sheni, the Second Passover, represents the power to embrace comprehensive change.

Moses, Miriam, you and me.

As we tap our hearts on Yom Kippur, or on any day of our lives, it is important to acknowledge what has occurred. But we can also remind ourselves that we can improve – and allow for that improvement within others.

For change is, perhaps, the most consistent component of life.

According to the Torah, each one of us deserves a second chance. And if God is willing to give us a second chance, so can we - for ourselves and others.

Months before the High Holidays, let us take a moment to embrace the theme of this week’s Torah: second chances.

Indeed, learning from our mistakes is part of who we are, as in some way, each day, we tap ourselves on the heart and as we continue to make ourselves into someone better.

This week’s parashah inspires us to consider that new beginnings are part of who we are, as each day we declare,

“I can do better.”

It has so much to do with second chances.

Shabbat shalom, v’kol tuv.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman


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