“It’s never too late. There’s always a second chance.” This, according to Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, 1880–1950), is the message of Pesach Sheni, the biblically ordained “Second Passover” for those who fail to bring the Passover offering on its designated time.

We all relate to a statement like “There’s always a second chance.” It soothes our harried souls, and fits nicely on the December 31 page of an Inspirational Sayings Desk Calendar. But how does it mesh with real day-to-day life? I took a small neighborhood survey.

“Well,” said Sarah L., a neighbor, “I missed the 6:22 coming home yesterday evening, and spent 35 minutes in the station reading a two-day-old newspaper—time I would have used to tell my daughter a bedtime story, if I’d gotten home in time. I’ll make that train today (I hope), but yesterday’s 6:22 ain’t ever coming ever again . . .”

“Well,” said Jeffrey H., a successful divorce lawyer, “twenty years ago I knew a wonderful girl that I wanted to marry. At one point, the words were at the tip of my tongue, and I just knew that she’d say ‘Yes.’ But the moment passed and I never did pop the question. I have no regrets—I’m happily married today—but that moment will never come back . . . Not in this lifetime, anyway.”

“Well,” said Forrest G., a business tycoon I know, “back in high school I had a friend who asked me if I thought he ought to go into politics. Now, this is the last guy in the world you’d want as head of state and commander-in-chief of a superpower. But I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, so I said, ‘Sure, go for it.’ I don’t have to tell you what a mess this guy made of our world during the eight years he was in office. That’s one decision that’s too late to change . . .”

What do we mean when we talk about a “second chance?” Is it the ability to step into a capsule, be transported to a previous point in time, jostle aside our previous, misguided self, and do it the right way this time? But if that’s all there’s to it, what has been gained? We could just as well have done it right the first time!

The Torah’s idea of teshuvah (“return”) is not just the undoing or correcting of a past error. Rather, teshuvah is about transforming the past. It means reaching back to change the significance and the consequences of what happened, so that the end result is better than what would have been had it not occurred.

Sarah L.: “You know, if I’m honest about it, the truth is that even if I would have made that train, I would have sat and read through that bedtime story as quickly as I could, just because I’d promised my daughter that I would. My mind was on other things that day. But the fact that I missed the train and broke my promise made me realize how much my daughter needs me—and not just my physical presence, but also my attention and mindfulness. Tonight, I’m going to sit with her on her bed and really talk—something that we haven’t done for longer than I care to remember . . .”

Jeffrey H.: “You know, there is nothing that I value more than my marriage. I believe that the woman I married is my destined soulmate, the one who is truly the only person in the world for me. The more I think about it, the more I see that ‘missed opportunity’ in my past as a perpetual challenge to experience—and surpass—that degree of yearning and hope in our own relationship. I say to myself: If I was able to see such promise and depth of feeling in that false lead, how much more so in the real thing! It makes me fall in love with my wife all over again every day of my life.”

As for my business tycoon friend, instead of retiring (as he planned to do at 65), he’s been working day and night to fix the mess that guy made. Let’s see what he comes up with.