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The Gift of Second Chances

The Gift of Second Chances

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We in recovery know about second chances. No matter where we have been, or how low we have fallen, with G‑d’s help, we have been able to look at ourselves, to make amends, and to begin again. Sometimes again and again. A little known Jewish holiday that falls this week celebrates the concept of second chances. Pesach Sheni (Second Passover) is not about cleaning and cooking and sitting through Seders all over; nor is it a weeklong festival of eating matzah. It is a one day celebration of the ability that G‑d has given us to call out to Him. It is His message to us that it is never too late.

In days of old, the Jewish people were commanded to bring a Passover offering at the appointed time to the Holy Temple. The first year after the Exodus, a group of people who were unable to bring the sacrifice complained to Moses, "Why should we be left out?" G‑d heard their desire to come close to Him. He instituted the festival of Pesach Sheni. He gave us the eternal message that we get a second chance.

Sometimes our second chances come as small incidents during otherwise uneventful days. We speak hurtful words, catch ourselves, and apologize. Or, we miss an important deadline, and are subsequently granted an extension. In my life, I have experienced two very profound second chance episodes. The first occurred eighteen years ago when I was struck by a car while bicycle riding. My helmet cracked from the impact. I clearly could have been killed. Regaining consciousness as I was transported into an ambulance, I remember thinking: G‑d saved my life. Later I wondered: Why, then, did He almost take it? An arduous physical recovery put me on a spiritual path. I eventually found grounding and healing in my Jewish heritage. I began learning about my faith and came to adopt an observant Jewish lifestyle. My spiritual beliefs and practices sustained me through years of raising a family and dealing with some of life’s challenges.

My second major second chance began less than two years ago, when the "wrecking ball" came wreaking its havoc in my home. Decades of dysfunction and denial were very suddenly and painfully uprooted. I and my spouse and some of our older children were catapulted into recovery. I had not asked for it any more than I would have willingly chosen the bike accident. But G‑d has His ways of waking us up. I guess I had still been sleeping. I got another chance to find Him. Recovery has taken me to places in my relationship with G‑d that I had never previously experienced. I began to explore who I am and how I am meant to serve G‑d.

I am the child of Holocaust survivors. My parents’ lives were replete with second chances. My mother lost her entire family, yet she was able to pursue her life-long dream of becoming a physician. My father survived numerous dramatic encounters with death throughout his 77 years. He passed away on Pesach Sheni five years ago.

Today I marvel: My parents survived on second chances, but they were unable to offer me (or my siblings) the same. Perfectionism ruled our home. Mistakes were not an option. Compliance was survival. Criticism was the language of lullabies; I was nursed on negativity.

Today I have compassion. I know that my parents could not have done any differently. With their pain, they built the best lives they could. They endured unimaginable horrors. They lacked the gift of faith. They attributed their survival either to chance, or to good judgment; keen decisions made at various life-threatening junctures. They must have felt that any mistake would have cost them their lives. That distortion was transmitted to me.

At the time Pesach Sheni was instituted, the Jewish people who complained, "Why should we be left out?" were either ritually impure (many of us have certainly defiled our bodies) or "on a faraway path" (we, too, have been miles and light-years away from our true selves). In their plea for a second chance to bring the Passover offering, our ancestors gave expression to our own inner truths: Just because we have inherited traits and adopted behaviors that do not serve us well, why should we miss out on the joys of life? We, too, want fullness and richness and serenity in our lives, true closeness in our relationships.

The gifts of recovery stem from our connection with our Creator. Biblically, bringing offerings was about coming close to G‑d. In our days, we, too, bring our offerings as a way of coming close to G‑d. We present our defects of character. We offer our addictions, our passions, our habits. We beg G‑d to remove the obstacles to our spiritual, emotional, and physical well being.

Many recovery groups study Step Five this month. We admit to G‑d, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. This is Pesach Sheni/Second Chance work! In admitting our shortcomings in this manner, we have another opportunity to renew our relationship with G‑d. We can become acquainted with our true selves. We can repair strained relationships with others The Sixth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef I. Schneersohn said: "The theme of Pesach Sheini is that it is never too late. It is always possible to put things right. Even if one was ritually impure, or one was far away, and even in a case when this impurity was deliberate - nonetheless he can correct it."

Though Pesach Sheni occurs but once a year, we can carry its wonderful message with us every day of our lives. We who seek recovery and personal growth strive to assess ourselves daily, taking personal inventory, and promptly admitting when we are wrong. We are allowed to make mistakes. We do get second chances.

We celebrate Pesach Sheni by eating matzah once again, but this time, we do not have to rid our homes of chametz (leavened products, which represent our arrogant natures). We bring ourselves to G‑d as we are -- defects and all. It doesn’t matter how old we are, how lost we’ve been, or where we are holding in our lives today. We beg Him to give us a second chance. He obliges. What an incredible gift.

By Susan T.
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Anonymous May 3, 2015

This article was really special. Thank you. Reply

Pat Canada January 14, 2015

Amen! Thank you for the inspiring words. Reply

Yakov Israel Sheffield, South Yorkshire November 29, 2011

Touching words... "Even if one was ritually impure, or one was far away, and even in a case when this impurity was deliberate - nonetheless he can correct it."

This is medicine for my soul.. thank you for sharing this. Reply

Anonymous March 23, 2010

thank you Susan I attend a 12 step meeting and we mark each Jewish holiday with a 'party' with song, nosh and goodies. I shared your article with my 12 step meeting and almost of the women had tears in their eyes as I read your story. I did too, the first time I read it. Thank you for sharing. Reply

Chaya Bluma May 7, 2009

Grateful for second (&hopefully third :-) chances Susan,
Thanks for your inspiring, heart-felt words. I too am very grateful to be moving beyond the knee-jerk reactions I adopted growing up & to begin making the choices that are right for me and good for my health - emotional & physical.
Since G-d recommended that we "choose Life", whenever we do so, we move closer to Him and improve His world.
Shabbat Shalom. Reply

Donna London, GB May 7, 2009

The gift of second chance Thankyou for the beautiful insight I have gained from reading this page. G-d always guides me to what I need to hear or read to help me trust in the prcocess of life. A second chance is truly a gift. Reply

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