B’haalotecha 5779

Second Chances

The Jewish Day of Second Chances is a Torah-mandated opportunity. If you were unable to observe the Pesach sacrifice at the original time, say because you were traveling or were ritually impure, you are expected to participate in the ritual one month later. That day is known as Pesach Sheini/Second Passover; it generally falls in mid-spring. (There is no provision for the person who is traveling or is ritually impure again on the second date….)

Why are we talking about a Pesach-related opportunity now, at the summer solstice? This week’s Torah reading (b’haalotecha) tells the tale: some men who were impure from contact with a corpse wish to fulfill the Pesach obligation but are not permitted to do so. They pose the problem to Moshe and Aharon. Moshe takes it to the Chief Justice, Who rules that they get a second chance one month later. The ritual must be carried out as it would be on the original date.

This is a religious gift that today is not connected to a ritual, which means we get to determine how to observe the day. It isn’t a recap of High Holy Days, with the idea that we must atone for person-to-person sins before seeking atonement for person-to-deity transgressions. What a great opportunity for us to grasp Torah and make it ours!

How do we take ownership of second chances? Is it a time for the equivalent of secular new year’s resolutions? Or a day to look forward with resolve; after all, spring is in full bloom and is there a better season for optimism? 

It’s really up to us. Though we really don’t need to wait until a specific day next year to give ourselves permission to take second chances. We should allow ourselves that opportunity whenever we need it, as long as we don’t try to repeat exactly what led us to the point of needing to take a second chance. If we don’t learn from our mistakes….

The comedian Sam Levenson wrote: “You have to learn from the mistakes of others. There isn’t enough time to make them all yourself.”