Life's Second Chance
Greetings from the holy city of Jerusalem!
This week's parsha discusses the topic of Pesach Sheini, the Second Passover offering. Certain members of the Jewish people had become impure due to contact with a dead body, and they were therefore unable to bring the Passover offering at its appointed time, the 14th of Nisan). They asked Moses and Aaron why they should be prevented from performing this mitzvah along with the rest of the Jewish people. Moses inquired of God what course of action these people should take, whereupon God instructed them to bring the offering one month later, on the 14th of Iyar, Pesach Sheini (Numbers 9:6-11).
According to the commentary "L'ma'an Achai V'Rei'ai," the lesson of this story is that a person always gets a second chance. We see this not only from the impure people ultimately being given another opportunity to bring the Passover offering; even their initial request implies that they expect a solution to be found! How did they learn this attitude? Why do they assume that they will be given a second chance?
The Talmud (Sukkah 25a) identifies these men as Yosef's coffin-bearers. The figure of Yosef will help us resolve the question we raised. When Yosef is on his deathbed, he tells his brothers, "I am going to die, and God pakod yifkod." These words can be loosely translated to mean, "God will surely remember you." But why is the verb doubled? Had Yosef said just yifkod, the same meaning would be conveyed!
Yosef, through his use of this double expression, is hinting to his brothers that God always offers a second chance. Yosef's words can be interpreted in the following way: "If, for whatever reason, God does not remember you now (pakod), don't worry; He will remember you (yifkod) at another time."
Let us not forget that Yosef, when he was sold into slavery by his brothers, lost his family, his wealth, and his freedom. Yet he did not give up hope. He maintained his righteousness in the midst of many challenges, because he understood that God always offers a second chance. This is manifested by Yosef's regaining everything he lost. He is reunited with his family, becomes wealthier than he ever could have imagined, and as viceroy of the Egyptian empire, can do what he pleases.
The people who asked Moses and Aaron if they would get another opportunity to bring the Passover offering learned their optimistic attitude from Yosef. Carrying Yosef's coffin caused them to be influenced by the values he embodied. Because of Yosef's impression on them, they had the holy chutzpah to approach Moses and Aaron and request a second chance.
According to "L'ma'an Achai V'Rei'ai," Yosef himself learned this attitude from his mother, Rachel. In order to understand how, we must delve into the dynamics of Rachel's wedding night.
Rachel had been promised to Yaakov. Yet Yaakov, who knew the crafty nature of his uncle Lavan, suspected that Lavan would try to get him to marry Rachel's sister, Leah, instead. Based on this suspicion, Yaakov and Rachel devised signs that would enable Yaakov to verify the identity of his veiled bride under the marriage canopy. On the day of the wedding, Lavan prevented Rachel from leaving the house and dressed up Leah in her place. Rachel knew that her sister would be mortified to be publicly exposed as the wrong bride, so she taught Leah these pre-arranged signs (Megillah 13b).
The Torah tells us that Leah's eyes were "rakot" - a word that means "soft" or "weak" (Genesis 29:17). The Talmud (Baba Batra 123a) wonders how the Torah could speak so disparagingly of a righteous person, especially when the Torah's style is to refer respectfully even to lowly creations.
[When Noah gathered animals to put in the ark, the Torah says that he assembled "pure ones, and ones that were not pure" (Genesis 7:8). From the Torah's use of extra words ("ones that were not pure" instead of "impure ones"), our Sages derive that the Torah is careful to even respect the honor of non-kosher animals!]
The Talmud explains that although Leah's eyes were weak, this statement is not disparaging; rather, it is an expression of praise. Leah had overheard people speculating that she and her sister Rachel would probably marry their cousins, Yaakov and Esav. The older two (Esav and Leah) and the younger two (Yaakov and Rachel) would be paired. When Leah inquired about Esav, she was told that he was a wicked person. When she inquired about Yaakov, she was told that he was "a complete person who sits in the tents" of Torah, perfecting his character traits (Genesis 25:27).
When Leah heard this, she began to cry - because she, too, wanted to marry a righteous person. She cried so much that her eyelashes fell out. Because of her weeping, the Torah describes her eyes as "soft" or "weak." This description is to her credit, since she desired so deeply to marry a righteous man.
Based on all this background information, we now have a new difficulty to resolve. Once Leah had married Yaakov, due to Lavan's trickery, Rachel would probably have to marry Esav. In that case, we might question whether Rachel did the right thing by passing the secret signs. Sure, had Leah been exposed at the chuppah as the wrong bride, she would have been extremely humiliated, and the scandal would have made the front page of the Paddan Aram Times. But after a few weeks, no one would be talking about it anymore.
Instead, Rachel taught Leah the signs, and by doing so seemingly forfeited the rest of her life. Why was this the proper choice? Perhaps it would have been better to temporarily humiliate Leah so that Rachel would not have to spend the rest of her life with an evil man!
According to "L'ma'an Achai V'Rei'ai," when Rachel taught Leah the signs, she did not seal her fate to marry Esav - because, at that moment, she brought into the world the concept of a second chance. Although it seemed that there were only two possible ways for the sets of siblings to marry each other, Rachel did not allow herself to get trapped by this perspective.
Instead, she created a third possibility. If she did not merit to marry Yaakov right then, she understood that she would be given another opportunity to do so at some future point. Thus, Yosef learned the principle of second chances from his mother Rachel, who initiated the concept and brought it down into the world.
No matter how many mistakes we've made, and how impure we might have become, and how many callings in life we might have failed to respond to, we can still emulate the ways of Rachel and Yosef: never to give up hope, because we know that God always offers us a second chance.