Humorist Will Rogers famously said, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” While that statement may be true, one should not diminish the importance of giving others a second chance.
Today, the 14th of Iyar, is Pesach Sheni, the “Second” Pesach, a minor holiday of Biblical origin, a holiday of “second chances”. Pesach Sheni, whose customs include not reciting the Tachanun (supplication) prayer and eating some leftover Matza, hardly seems to warrant a second thought. But there is more to Pesach Sheni than meets the eye.
The source for Pesach Sheni can be found in the ninth chapter of the Book of Numbers. In that section, Moses announced that the Passover sacrifice could only be brought and eaten by ritually pure people.
We then read that a group of Israelites approached Moses and Aaron with a complaint. Because of the fact they were ritually unclean from contact with a corpse, they were unable to bring the offering. “Why are we being prevented from bringing the offering with the rest of Israel in the proper time?” they asked. Moses then promptly took their claim to the ultimate authority, telling them, “Stand and hear what God has commanded you.”
The Torah then goes on to lay out the divine laws concerning the new holiday of Pesach Sheni, a special opportunity for those who, through no fault of their own, missed bringing the Paschal Sacrifice at the proper time. They would be granted a second chance to bring this offering on the 14th of Iyar, exactly one month later than usual, and hence fulfill this important commandment.
In my new role, as Head of English Content for World WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organization), I am continuously exposed to countless heartwarming and inspirational stories of women and children who, thanks to WIZO, thrived against all odds. However, some of the most touching stories I have encountered concern Israeli teenagers in WIZO youth villages and vocational schools, where they all benefited from getting a second chance in life.
Opinionated, pretty, bright and resourceful, Maritu, a headstrong young teenage girl from an Ethiopian family in Beit She’an, arrived at the WIZO Nachlat Yehudah Youth Village in the 7th grade. “I was really out of control, wreaking havoc. I made my counselors’ lives miserable,” she recalls.
Five years later, Maritu is the model of a conscientious citizen and a social leader – serving on the school’s Student Council and active in the school’s performing arts troupe. She even coordinates volunteer activities, which involve her youth village peers in the community – helping seniors, the homeless or children of foreign workers.
Looking ahead to her service in the IDF with the hope of becoming an officer, Maritu seeks to serve as a role model for the Ethiopian community and for kids who seek to break away from a dead end path.
I was exposed to another second chance story just ten days ago, on the eve of Yom Hazikaron, Memorial Day for Israel’s Fallen Soldiers, when I accompanied World WIZO Chairperson Prof. Rivka Lazovsky to the WIZO Gan Vanof Youth Village in Petach Tikva.
Following the emotional student-run ceremony, which also honored the school’s 11 graduates who fell defending Israel in the IDF, Yehuda, a Gan Vanof alumnus in an IDF uniform, warmly greeted Prof. Lazovsky with a hug.
“This WIZO school completely turned my life around,” he beamed. “I was in and out of a number of other schools for years, always getting into trouble. Then I was placed here at WIZO Gan VaNof and everything changed. I got love, support and direction from the wonderful staff here. I made great friends. I even stopped smoking here. Just two years ago, I led the Yom Hazikaron ceremony here at the school as a student and now I am in an officer’s course in the army,” he said, smiling broadly.
In Chassidic philosophy, especially as expounded upon by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn of Chabad, Pesach Sheni is all about second chances. In his words, “The Second Passover means that it’s never a ‘lost case‘.”
We may never get a second chance to make a first impression, but we can always open our hearts and give others a second chance.