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It’s Not Too Late!

Friday, 8 May, 2020 - 7:44 am

My sister-in-law’s father came home yesterday after over seven weeks in the hospital due to covid-19. He had a tracheostomy and was on a respirator for over a month. At times, there was grave concern for his life. To see him walking on his own two feet, joyously reunited with his family, was truly miraculous.

During the weeks that went by in a haze of conscious and unconscious, he missed out entirely on observing Passover.

It’s hard to imagine the emotional feeling of helplessness when you realize that a period of your life has been virtually deleted. Thankfully, he is around to tell the tale.

As he joked, “I was wrong about how serious covid-19 is. Thank G-d, I was not dead wrong!”

On a more serious note, he contemplated, “I have a second chance at life. I won’t take it for granted.”

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This Tuesday, we will observe Lag BaOmer. One of the reasons we celebrate Lag BaOmer is to mark the end of an epidemic among the students of one of the greatest Talmudic scholars, Rabbi Akiva. His yeshiva was the “Harvard” of the yeshiva world and he amassed 24,000 students. Having 24,000 students almost 2000 years ago – without the academic progress of centuries, private foundations and dormitories – far outpaces the success of today’s largest universities. Yet, an epidemic broke out and obliterated the yeshiva. Yes, 24,000 students perished. According to the Talmud, it was due to their inability to sufficiently respect each other.

Rabbi Akiva is one of the most celebrated sages of the Talmud. Most of the teachings in the Talmud were transmitted by his students.

However, we don’t really have any teachings from his 24,000 students. How is it possible that Rabbi Akiva’s teachings are ubiquitous in the Talmud if all his students perished?

After Rabbi Akiva had been teaching for almost three decades his student body was wiped out. Do you know what he did at that point? He did not retire in mourning, a broken person. He did not give up. He went and found five new students, and began teaching them. Instead of leading the “Harvard” of his times, he was now reduced to studying with a handful of students!

Amazingly, these five students became the pillars of the Talmud. Hundreds upon hundreds of laws in the Talmud were taught by these five students!

Rabbi Akiva believed that we are always given a second chance. He may not have had as many students as before. But, their impact was larger than all 24,000 previous students!

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Today is Pesach Sheini (the Second Passover). In the times of the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple), a person who was impure could not participate in the Pesach offering. A make-up date was available a month later, called Pesach Sheini. Nowadays, we commemorate this by eating a piece of matzah today.

The fact that the Torah gives us a make-up opportunity is G-d’s way of telling us, ‘It’s never too late!’ Even if you are in a desperate situation like Rabbi Akiva. Even if you have suffered setbacks or tragedies. Even if you fail at first.  You get a second chance.

It’s not too late to commit ourselves to the values we aspire to.

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Covid-19 has presented many challenges to all of us. We don’t know exactly what the future entails. We cannot be sure how we will recover from losses or from medical, emotional, economic and social setbacks.

But, we will be given a second chance.

Like Rabbi Akiva, let’s rise to the occasion and ensure our second chance is greater than our first.

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