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A Second Chance

A Second Chance

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During the times when the Beit Hamikdash, the Temple stood, there were those who were unable to bring their Passover sacrifice to the Temple on the 14th day of Nissan. Because the people wanted another opportunity to bring their sacrifice, the 14th day of the following month of Iyar became knows as a “second Passover" (Pesach Sheini). The day thus represents the "second chance"; achieved by teshuvah, the power of repentance and return. In the words of Rabbi Joseph Isaac of Lubavitch, "The Second Passover means that it's never too late, it is never a 'lost case.’

This year Pesach Sheini falls out on Friday, May 12, 2006 and is commemorated by eating matzah, the flat, egoless bread, a reminder of our slavery and our redemption from it.

The following story is something that happened to me, and by Divine Providence, happened the week of Pesach Sheini a number of years ago…

I have this terrible tendency of being right at any cost. It’s funny because I can be quite laid back at times, even sometimes seemingly passive. Most things won’t bother me and I’ll just let a lot slide by rather than get upset. But underneath it all, I can be like a rock. When I do get upset—watch out! It’s funny because most of the “tough” people that I know walk around with an attitude and are quite intimidating to me. I keep my distance as they strut around, their exterior hiding their insecurity within. But I’ve noticed that if we are together when I have finally had enough, they’ll break under the pressure and I become tougher than anyone would have imagined. Fortunately, this has helped me really stand up for myself when no one else would have. But it has also come out at extremely inappropriate times—one of which I was left with a lesson I will never forget.

So there I was, developing film on Kingston Avenue in Crown Heights. The task was simple enough and yet some days nothing seems to be so simple. Two days had passed since I dropped off the roll and now I anxiously awaited my pictures. The man behind the counter, who must have been in his mid to late 80’s, took his good old time finding my beloved pictures. I paid him and then went to see how they came out. For some reaon they were completely damaged. Every picture was either torn or bent. At this point, of course, other people were in line.

I tried to wait patiently, but as the minutes passed I was getting quite ancy. Finally, I showed the elderly gentleman my film, and asked what he suggested. Needless to say, he didn’t have any great suggestions. Now, I am usually extremely kind with older people. I’m the first to help them cross the seat, let them ahead of me in line, and just be friendly. But, to tell you the truth, this man was not exactly the loving grandfather type. He was rude and mean and I was starting to lose any semblance of patience.

He finally agreed to send the film back. As he snatched the envelope away from me, he told me to return in another few days. I thought at least I would have my $8.00 back and would be able to buy lunch. So I asked for my money back and was prepared to leave. To my great shock, the man flatly refused.

I’m not sure why, but suddenly I was overcome with this need to fight for my rights. How dare he take my money, not give me my product, and refuse to reimburse me? Thief!!! This was stealing. Why should I pay for something I didn’t receive?

And so, it was at this point that I lost my mind and flew into an utter rage. I demanded my money. I actually screamed at this man and refused to leave his store. He was infuriated. He yelled back, veins bulging from his wrinkled neck, his entire body shaking. Finally he threw my pictures back at me and told me he didn’t want anything to do with me. But no, my pictures were damaged, and he was responsible to take care of it! Finally I gave up, realizing this man would not be just, he would not return my money nor take care of my film, and I had no choice but to leave.

And so, I gathered my things together and hastily prepared to stomp out of the store, with the full intention of slamming the door behind me for added effect. Suddenly another man at the store stopped me. At this point, the old man, the owner of the store, left the counter and when to the back since I had upset him so much. This other man, Menachem, was now up front.

Menachem was a man in his 50’s, of Sephardic origin, and with the most gentle and loving eyes and smile. In a soft voice he asked me what the owner could have possibly done to have enraged me to such a point. Still thinking I was 100% in the right, I informed him that I had paid for something that I didn’t receive, and that I wanted my money returned.

He asked me how much I was owed, and then started to take $8 out of his wallet. It still hadn’t sunk into my thick skull when he said, “For $8 you were screaming at an old man? If you need the $8 so badly, please take my $8.”

He was holding the money out to him and slowly shaking his head side to side with an extremely pained and disappointed look on his face. And suddenly I also couldn’t understand why I had been screaming at a man older than my grandfather. And for what? What was I worried about? Did I think this man was going to steal my money?

The tears began to well up in my eyes and I knew I could no longer speak. I was humiliated. Utterly humiliated. There I was, in Crown Heights, in a long sleeve shirt, long skirt, stockings and all, and this is how I was behaving. Had I not learned anything? Why was I wasting my time in yeshiva if this is how I would act? I managed to spew out the words, “I’m sorry, you’re right” and I ran out of the store.

I cried the entire way home, overwhelmed with how disgusting I had behaved. I knew I couldn’t bear to walk into that store again and face them. And then I realized that a few days later it would be Pesach Sheini, the Second Passover, the time when we are reminded that it is never too late and we always have a second chance. So I began to write. I wrote and wrote, profusely apologizing for my behavior and praying that they would find it within them to forgive me. Then I have the letter to a friend and asked her to deliver it for me.

I debated as to whether or not I should go myself to pick up the film a few days later, and then realized that if I couldn’t face them, my apology would be meaningless. While I felt the letter was a start, I knew I owed them a verbal apology as well. When I came into the store, I’m not sure if the old man even remember who I was or if he even cared. But Menachem most certainly did. And when he saw me, he smiled a smile that showed me that I had indeed been given a second chance.

To this day, whenever he sees me he calls me Rebbetzin or Tzadekes (terms of honor for holy, righteous women.) His eyes light up when I come in and he showers me with blessings. He nearly cried when I got engaged and likewise when my husband and I came in to visit with our first newborn daughter.

I am fortunate to say that in this particular case I feel I truly repented. There is the concept of a yeridah tzorech aliyah, a descent for the sake of an ascent, and this was truly one of them. Unfortunately, my strength still sometimes outweighs my rationale. But in dealing with this weakness of mine, I try to recall the look on Menachem’s face as he simply asked me “why?” and that is usually enough to get me back on track!

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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Helen Fox London, England August 12, 2007

with so much to read I have only just got round to this one. I love the way you write and I had to smile thinking of you in this shop, and could only think good for you, but the way you handled the situation afterwards was so good and thank you for pointing out it is good to have some patience even when we are right,and others think we are wrong.
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Sarah Israel May 21, 2006

I loved this piece. Thank you so much for your honesty. It just goes to show - we can be 100% confident about something and still be wrong. Thank you so much for sharing this touching and honest story. Good for you. Reply