Sometimes We All Need A Second Chance [Parshat Beha’alotecha By Rabbi Zalman Lent]

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Why should we be excluded so as not to bring the offering of the Lord in its appointed time, with all the children of Israel? – Numbers 9:7

 “I spent years looking for Mr Right. Little did I know that his first name would be Always!”

There is a section in the Talmud (Kiddushin 49) which discusses whether “conditional” marriages are valid or not. So for example, if a manbetrothes a woman, conditional upon him being a Kohen, or a farmer, or a politician … the marriage is only valid once he has proven that he is what he said he is. If he made the betrothal conditional upon him owning land, or having specific employment, he must prove that he told the truth before the betrothal takes effect. Then the Talmud poses an interesting suggestion: What if he made the betrothal conditional upon him being a “tzaddik,” a righteous man? Is it a valid marriage or not, and how do we prove it? What possible documentation could a man produce to prove his righteousness beyond doubt?

The answer is fascinating. The Talmud explains that even if the man was known to be wicked up to that point, and far from being a “tzaddik,” the marriage is still valid. So even if he was spotted eating a bacon cheeseburger on Tisha Be’Av (a fast day), if he then goes down on one knee and places a ring on her finger to betroth her “on the condition that I am a tzaddik, a completely righteous person,” the Talmud says – mekudeshet, they are betrothed. Why? Because teshuvah (repentance) is possible in a split second; since in the brief moments between eating the burger and betrothing the woman he may have made a life changing decision, to repent on past sins, and to start afresh.

Sometimes we all need a second chance.

In the parsha this week a small group of individuals are unhappy, they feel left out. G-d had commanded the Jewish people that year to bring a Pesach offering, a korban Pesach, for which you had to be in a state of ritual purity – tahara. They are upset as they had been involved with the burial of the dead (which made them temporarily impure), and they felt it was unfair that they were unable to participate in this mitzva.

Moshe hears them out and relays their dismay to G-d. In response a new festival is inaugurated … Pesach Sheni, the second Pesach. This was to be a single day exactly one month later when anyone impure or far away on the first Pesach, could bring their offering on the second one. (To this day the custom is to mark Pesach Sheni by eating matzah on the 14th of Iyyar.)

The interesting thing about this episode in the chumash is that a new day of celebration was put into the calendar simply because a small group of people demanded a second chance, and G-d granted it. That is a message we should always bear in mind, that G-d can give us a second chance … just sometimes we have to demand it.

Rabbi Schudrich, the Chief Rabbi of Poland, has many stories of people looking for second chances. Here is an excerpt of one of the more famous ones:

Pawel  Bramson was raised in an observant Catholic family.  As a teenager, he joined a skinhead gang. He was virulently anti-Jewish, anti-black and anti-Gypsy. At age eighteen, Pawel  married his Catholic high school girlfriend, a fellow skinhead, and they had two children. Four years later Pawel’s  wife decided to investigate some nagging questions that she had about her family’s background. She eventually found her maternal grandparents listed on a register of Warsaw Jews, along with Pawel’s  maternal grandparents.

The news shook Pawel. The Jews that he had always reviled were actually his own people!

Pawel’s wife decided to begin serving Shabbat meals and introduced other mitzvot into their home. Pawel confronted his parents and although they acknowledged the truth, they reacted with unease. They even pressured Pawel to urge his wife stop serving Shabbat meals, and to sweep her Judaism back under the rug. They had hidden their Judaism from their own children out of fear of anti-Semitism, and the religious life that Pawel’s wife was beginning to explore represented what to them was profound danger.

It took Pawel a long time to accept the reality of his identity. He struggled with it, unsure of whether he wanted to embrace Judaism or not. But eventually he and his wife decided to live as Orthodox Jews. Pawel now goes by the name Pinchas and is studying to become a shochet, a ritual slaughterer. “I am good with knives,” he explains with a smile. (story “From Skinhead to Orthodox Jew”  via

Not everyone is granted a second chance, just as in the Divine plan not everyone is granted health, or family, or happiness … but sometimes if we ask, like that small group in the desert, G-d will grant us our prayers.

Let us hope that we are all granted that second chance, along with health and happiness in abundance.  Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Zalman Lent


Rabbi Zalman Lent is a Community Rabbi in Dublin and director of  Chabad of Ireland.


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