Mark Burger (Shmot Exodus 34:1-9 Chant)
Pesach is about liberation and freedom, the first known rebellion for the sake of worship; the first time a weak people was known to have triumphed over a mighty nation – not to conquer it, but to free itself of it. Pesach is also about a second chance. A second chance to overcome fear, idolatry and denial. The Jewish people will always have a second chance, as long as the Covenant with God is in effect, perhaps whether we believe in that promise or not.
Second chances, however, are not guarantees or guaranteed to individuals, communities, even tribes of Israel. And because they are not like a 401k in a bull market, we get angry, and, if the anger is not addressed, doubts about who we are and our relationships with God begin to sprout.
Second chances came to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, even Pharaoh. Second chances did not come to the golden calf worshippers. Or to the first born of Egypt, or most of an earlier first born of Israel. This seems cruel, even though God warned earlier in Exodus that His miracles to free Israel were to affect Egypt down to the slave girl grinding her millstone.
Many of us get second chances in our daily lives. Many of us take advantage of them in a meaningful way. Going for a new job or career when the present one is comfortable; recovering from a serious illness or injury to undertake a great project or cause; or carrying on someone else’s work when that person is no longer able. Many of us fail to take a second chance because it’s risky, inconvenient or possibly unpopular. When a person or people fail to take advantage of second chances, they begin to die before their time.
We see Israel imperiled by disaster, whether by Pharaoh or the Amalekites in the Bible, or Rome, Spain or Germany in more modern times. I will not say these represent second chances in themselves, but what second chances come from them? What might be the second chance for Israel through the fear, the pain, the witness to evil? Is God stepping back for us? Is God stepping back in order for us to exercise our free will, which is the only way to love God according to the Covenant? Is God’s stepping back a second chance? After all, how well did we work when God hovered over us?
This stepping back is evident in this portion. Moses, taking the second chance to receive the Covenant for Israel, writes it himself. The first time, before the golden calf, it’s written by God. Did Pharaoh have a second chance? It appears he did not because God stiffened his heart. But the Hebrew word is "cha-zayk", which could also mean strengthen, as in "Be strong and of good courage". Maybe Pharaoh had a second chance, but was predisposed to fulfill God’s role.
Second chances are opportunities to grow. Noah did not plead for a world about to be destroyed, although he had the chance. When he had a second chance, he got drunk, possibly to erase the agony of the lost second chance out of his mind. Abraham pleaded with God for Sodom and Gomorrah, unsuccessfully, but he took the opportunity with the second chance.
Moses was the greatest second chance taker of all, successfully arguing for Israel, in spite of their sins, and even when God offered the ultimate second chance, to start Israel over by his seed. May we take advantage of second chances if and when they come with the same fortitude of Moses, if not with the same spectacular results. Amen.