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A Second Chance

Parshat Beha'alotcha is one of the well known sources for stating that a person has a second chance, and that no one should despair of his personal circumstances.

The Torah tells about the first Korban Pesach that B'nei Yisrael offered in the desert.  On that occasion, there were people who had become defiled and were unable to offer the Korban Pesach.  They approached Moshe and said to him:  "We have become impure through contact with a corpse; why should we be any less [fortunate than the others] that we may not offer G-d's sacrifice in its appointed time, among B'nei Yisrael"  (Bamidbar 9, 7).  What did it seem that they were asking for?  You were impure - so, you lost out!  But, no; they wanted so much to offer a sacrifice!  Moshe saw how intense their desire was, and he asked G-d what to do.  G-d told him that they have another chance - Pesach Sheni [the Second Pesach], on the fourteenth of Iyar.  Whoever was unable to offer the sacrifice in its proper time could have a second chance.

"If any man among you has become unclean by contact with a dead body, or if he is on a journey, far away, any one of you or of your posterity, he shall [yet] make the Pesach offering for G-d.  In the second month, on the fourteenth day, in the late afternoon [toward evening] shall they make it"  (Bamidbar 9, 9-11).

Those people did not lose hope because of their situation.  They expressed their intense desire to sacrifice to G-d through the Korban Pesach, and when the Creator of the world saw their genuine wish, He transmitted the mitzvah of Pesach Sheni to Moshe - "It would have been proper to have this parshah given by Moshe, as the rest of the Torah was given, but those people merited having it given through them, as one uses the meritorious for a conduit for merit"  (Rashi).

The message of Pesach Sheni is a simple one: Nothing is lost!  It doesn't matter how much we lose our way on distant paths, or to what degree we feel impure and obtuse - it's always possible to correct the situation and to have a second chance, provided by G-d.  It's never too late.

We shall expand a little on this subject, in the light of the Mishnah in the Tractate Ethics of the Fathers [Pirkei Avot]:  "Nittai, the Arbelite, says - Keep yourself distant from an evil neighbor, and do not associate with a wicked person, and do not despair of retribution"  (1, 7).

At first glance, it seems as if the quote from Nittai, the Arbelite, is being made in comparison to the words of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachiya, in the preceding Mishnah: "Attain a teacher for yourself, and make a friend [colleague] for yourself, and judge all men favorably".  Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachiya's words relate to the positive aspect of "doing" - to what we should do in order to create a positive influence on ourselves, so that we can raise our level of serving Hashem.  In contrast, the words of Nittai, the Arbelite, are directed to the other side of the coin, the negative side.  He points out the things that have a negative influence on a person and that can make him veer off the straight, good path.

 

When one considers the background of the period in which Nittai, the Arbelite, lived, his words have a special significance.  At that time, the sects that left the Jewish tradition became stronger.  The financial "nobility", the social elite, the monarchy and even the High Priesthood were in the hands of the Sadducees and the Hellenists.  It is only natural that a person tends to attach himself to "the winning side", to the wealthy, to a person who has status and who is influential.  During this period, Christianity was also at the beginning of its path (Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachiya was the mentor [rebbe] of that man [a euphemism for the person associated with the dawn of Christianity], so say our sages.  It is in reference to this danger that Nittai, the Arbelite, warns:  "Distance yourself from an evil neighbor, and do not associate with a wicked person". 

The third sentence, "...and do not despair of retribution", completes the previous two phrases.  For, after all, a person can wonder to himself - on the one hand, I see the success of the wicked, in this world; on the other hand, I see the "retribution" [difficult times and hardships] visited upon the righteous.  So, who said that there is justice in the world?  Why not associate with the wicked, if the wicked has gain from his wickedness?  Therefore, Nittai says: don't despair of retribution.  Don't be blinded by the success of evil; for success of evil is momentary, temporary and fleeting.  Don't doubt the retribution that is bound to be visited upon the wicked, if not in this fleeting world, surely in the world of truth, the real, everlasting world (commentary of the Bartnura).

The name Nittai, "the Arbelite", was given him because he lived in the vicinity known as Arbel, and this has singular significance.  What is that significance?  The Talmud Yerushalmi, in Tractate Brachot, says: "Rabbi Chiyya bar Abba and Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta were walking along the Arbel Valley, and they saw "ayelet hashachar" [a star that appears a short time before the sun begins to shine].  Rabbi Chiyya said to him: Thus is the redemption of Israel: at first, slowly, slowly, and as it proceeds, it gains momentum.  As it is written: "If I sit in darkness, G-d will be my light"  (Micah 7,8).

The time of the appearance of "ayelet hashachar" signals the first rays of morning light.  Rabbi Chiyya and Rabbi Shimon were walking along the Arbel Valley, and they encouraged themselves by saying that just as they were looking at the "ayelet hashachar" star, seeing the first rays breaking through the darkness of night, becoming stronger by the minute, this is the way the redemption of Israel will progress.  The future, resplendent with light, will develop out of the darkness of the night of exile, slowly, step by step.

In his introduction to his sefer, "Or Chadash", a commentary on Megillat Esther, the Maharal adds that "ayelet hashachar"  [Hebrew for deer of the morning] was given that appellation because just as a deer - ayalah - proceeds with leaps, swiftly, bound after bound, so will the redemption arrive swiftly; however, leap after bound, one after the other, similarly to the appearance of the morning light.

This quote of what was said in the Arbel Valley reflects what Nittai, the Arbelite said.  Nittai takes the simile of light and darkness to represent the changing circumstances in a person's inner world.  He uses the comparison as an encouragement and says that one should not despair of his particular

 

circumstances.  Are you in darkness at the moment?  Look at the light at the end of the murkiness.  We shall look a little deeper into what he said:

Nittai, the Arbelite, gives three instructions:  "Distance yourself from an evil neighbor", "...and do not associate with a wicked person", "and do not despair of retribution".   The first two instructions appear to be straightforward - to stay far from a bad neighbor and not to become friendly with an evil person.  The third instruction - not to despair of retribution - has two interpretations:

The first interpretation is what we have mentioned previously, not to doubt the downfall of the wicked; however, Rashi brings an additional interpretation.  Rashi says that this comment is directed not only to an evildoer, but also to every man: "If you are wealthy, do not put your faith in your wealth, as retribution comes swiftly.  Therefore, you should be constantly fearful.  And thus, he says 'Happy is the person who is constantly fearful' (Mishlei [Proverbs] 8, 14).  And so, if misfortune overtakes you, do not despair, for salvation is quick to come".

Rashi brings two opposite interpretations - 1.  When you are enjoying being in good circumstances, and everything is in order, don't forget that danger lurks, stalking you at every corner.  2.  When you are beset with misfortune, you can be vulnerable to heretical thoughts.  Therefore, he says: 'Do not despair of the retribution that comes upon you', meaning that you must know how to become strengthened from that retribution [i.e., hard times] and how not to give up hope because of it.  Don't give in to despondence; in the end, everything will turn out for the best.

Two valid interpretations.  It is only natural that a person thinks that his present situation - whether it is good, at the moment, or bad - cannot change, and that the present circumstances are going to continue forever.  When a person is in a condition of satiety and plenty, it doesn't occur to him that things could change, heaven forbid, for the worse, and he calculates his future according to what he has at the moment.  And, the opposite is also true - when his situation is the worst possible, and he is under pressure, in dire straits and difficulty, it is hard for him to even think that there could be a complete turnabout; he's sure that these hardships are the reality of his existence.  Therefore, the Tanna says to us - do not be despondent because of hard times; don't despair and give up thoughts of anticipating a complete switch from the bad to the good, and from the good to the bad, because every given circumstance in which you find yourself can definitely change, always, both in a material and a spiritual sense (sefer "Siach Yitzchak", by Rabbi Yitzchak Borodiansky).

In order to connect the three comments of Nittai, the Arbelite, even more, one can add that the wicked one and the evil about which the Mishnah speaks do not refer only to a person who is overtly wicked; rather, it refers also to the evil side and the inner wickedness within a person.  Each one of us has things that are negative, and not good.  It's difficult for us to get rid of them, and those elements try to trip us up, each time afresh.  Nittai, the Arbelite, comes and says - "Distance yourself from a bad neighbor!":  Distance yourself from the evil that dwells within you, and "Do not associate with a wicked one!" - Don't be linked to the forces of wickedness that are concealed within you.

 

 

Once we have understood that "Don't associate with a wicked one" refers not only to a bad person, but also to the forces of evil that are found within us, we can add still another layer to the commentary on, "Don't despair of retribution".

Also for a person who is constantly advancing upward, trying to improve himself and to do only good - he, also must remember that despite all his attempts and his hard work, there is still, within his emotional forces, a presence of hidden evil.  A person must always be mindful of the existence of this evil and know that it can bring hardship [types of retribution] upon him.  A person must not give up thinking about that evil, because the second he diverts his mind away from it or links himself to it, that evil can be swept into his being.

Also from the other hand, when a person finds himself, heaven forbid, in deep trouble, he can prefer to live as he is used to living and can give up trying to rectify his situation.  Nittai comes and says to him - don't be despondent because of the present hardships; have faith in your ability to leave them behind you.  Now that we have understood this, the comparison between Nittai, the Arbelite and Yehoshua ben Perachya is clear.  "Do not despair of retribution" parallels "Judge every man favorably".  The most favorable judgment is to be found within a person, who, when he judges himself favorably, will never come to despair.

Just as the redemption of Israel is step by step, so the personal redemption of each person is step by step.

Let's not despair, and we shall merit being like those individuals in the Generation of the Desert, who merited being given a second chance.