A Second Chance
How often do we wish we had a second chance to choose differently and undo any harmful mistakes we might have made in the past? On Yom Kippur and the days leading up to it, God gives us that second chance! We need only to regret our mistake, apologize to God and any people we may have harmed, and resolve not to make similar mistakes in the future. When we do that, God gives us a clean slate and looks at us as if the mistake never happened! Let's take advantage of this special time to clean up our act and start the new (Jewish) year on the right foot.
In our story, a kid has to decide whether he's willing to take a chance at a second chance.
"ON HIS ROCKER"
Jay held his breath as he and his family, smiling and waving, made their way down the winding driveway toward the car. His heart was beating a mile a minute, certain that at any moment he would be found out.
Only once the car pulled out and had driven far down the road did the boy allow himself to relax enough to think about the foolish mistake he had made - a mistake which would stay with him forever.
Jay had always been fascinated by Grandpa's special antique rocking chair. He loved the deeply carved designs of its dark wooden frame and the way it thump-thumped when it rocked, not like the quiet swaying of their upholstered rocker back home.
But he also knew that the chair, which was over a hundred years old and was even used by his great-grandmother to rock his Grandpa when he was a baby (!), was off-limits to kids. As his Grandfather put it: "It's to be admired by eyes only."
Jay wasn't sure what had made him climb up on the chair when nobody was in the room, or what had compelled him to rock on it so fast. But he did know that once it made that terrible cracking sound and then split in two, he had made an unforgivable mistake. He figured once his Grandpa found out, he would never speak to him again - or worse.
He left his grandfather's house without telling anyone what happened. At home, Jay cringed every time the phone rang, certain it was the moment his terrible deed was discovered. But as the days and then weeks passed without incident, the boy let the whole thing slip into the back of his mind ... until his sister, Cindy, came up to his room one Sunday morning and announced, "Get dressed lazy bones! It's almost time to go."
"Go where?" he asked sleepily.
"Don't you remember? It's Grandpa's birthday today. Dad says we have to leave in a half an hour so we get there by noon."
Jay started to panic.
"I'm not ... I mean I can't come!"
"What are you talking about? You're the one who's always begging Mom and Dad to go visit them, and the first to jump in the car."
"Well not today!" Jay insisted. "Besides ... I have the flu."
Cindy looked at her perfectly healthy looking brother dubiously. "Jay, what's going on? You're not acting normal."
If there was one person he couldn't fool, it was his sister, and Jay spilled the beans about the rocking chair. "...what I did was unforgivable and that's why I can never visit Grandpa again," he concluded, certain that his sister would agree.
Cindy shook her head. "Do you really think that Grandpa won't forgive you?"
"Well you're wrong. True, you made a mistake, but no mistake is unforgivable. That's what Yom Kippur is all about. God gives us a chance to make whatever we did wrong right - but first we have to make ourselves forgivable."
"How do I do that?"
"First of all, you have to regret what you did."
"No problem, do I ever!"
"Secondly, you have to decide you will never do something like that again."
"Don't worry, I learned my lesson." Jay looked relieved. "Hey is that it? That's not so bad..."
"Not quite. And thirdly, dear brother, you have to 'fess up to Grandpa and say you're sorry."
Jay's face went dark. This wasn't going to be as easy as he thought. But anything was better than the huge load of guilt he was feeling now. "Okay. I'll be ready to go in a few minutes."
When they arrived at their grandparents' house, the table was all decked out with the delicious food Grandma had made, and a big birthday cake in the middle. Jay knew that once the party started he'd lose his chance, so he quickly walked over to Grandpa's study, where he was sitting alone, and knocked on the door.
His grandfather invited him in and Jay started stuttering out his apology, hoping with all his heart that it would work. The older man nodded with a serious but kind look on his face.
"Well, I admit it Jay - I was waiting to hear from you," he said, "but I see you mean it when you say you're sorry, and yes, I forgive you." His grandfather gave Jay a big hug and Jay felt like a ton of bricks had been taken off his head.
"Come with me," said Grandpa with a smile. Jay wondered where he was taking him. They went out the back door to Grandpa's shed where, to Jay's amazement, he saw the antique rocker all shiny and back in one piece.
"You mean it's still okay?"
"After it broke, I decided to re-finish it and re-glued all the joints. My special carpenter's glue made it stronger than ever. Let's go join the gang before your Grandma's delicious dinner cools down."
As they walked together, Jay's grandfather put his arm around the boy's shoulder and said with a smile, "Your being brave enough to admit what you did and apologize is also a special 'glue' that has now made you and I closer together than ever, too."
Q. How did Jay feel at first about breaking the rocking chair?
A. He felt scared and sure there was no way to get his grandfather to forgive him.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He saw how regretting, owning up to, and apologizing over what happened made him feel much better, and his grandfather forgave him too.
Q. What life lesson did Jay learn from what happened?
A. He had thought that there were some mistakes that were unforgivable and he would have to just always stay with a guilty feeling about them, but he discovered that no matter what happens we can always take steps to seek forgiveness, and ultimately be able to go on with life in a positive way.
Q. If someone takes the steps Jay did to be forgiven and still the other person doesn't forgive, has he accomplished anything?
A. God asks us to seek forgiveness and make a sincere and serious attempt to make things right. After we do that, we are forgiven in God's eyes whether or not the other person chooses to forgive.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Our sages teach that someone who does wrong but takes the steps needed to change for the better is in a way greater than someone who never did wrong in the first place. How do you understand this statement?
A. Life is not about perfection, but about improvement and growth. Someone who is able to lift himself up from wrong behavior and change for the better has grown more than someone who has remained on one (even high) level of behavior.
Q. Can a person ever do something so bad that it is truly unforgivable?
A. There is always hope. While there are some behaviors that are so destructive that there may be a lot of serious consequences on the road to forgiveness and repair, ultimately if a person holds on, he will in the end reach a point of having made amends.