Parashat B'ha'alothkha

Sometimes, There Are Second Chances

Of "Second Passover," Rabbi Akiva, and adult bat mitzvahs

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Despite their dismal poverty, the couple adhered to their plans and each other. For 12 years, Rabbi Akiva left his wife to study at the academy of Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua. Ready to return, he learned indirectly that his devoted wife would endure another dozen years of widowhood if her husband would continue to study. Again he heeded her wishes.

Finally, after an absence of 24 years, Rabbi Akiva, now the greatest scholar of his age, did come home with an entourage of students without number. As his shabbily clad wife approached to embrace him, they tried to rebuff her. But Rabbi Akiva immediately recognized her and told his students "what is mine and yours is actually hers."

Achievement had not gone to his head. Still modest, he acknowledged that his awesome erudition owed everything to the judgment and loyalty of his helpmate (Babylonian Talmud, Ketubot 62b-63a).

The story is not without a touch of irony. The primary founder of rabbinic Judaism was a second career student! Had his farsighted and long-suffering spouse not provided him with a second chance, his flock would not have changed. After Rabbi Akiva citizenship in the Jewish polity was acquired through the study of Torah. Age ceased to be a barrier. It is never too late to start. Nor, in fact, is there a point at which we are entitled to stop.

For the beneficiaries of the exodus and Sinai, Torah became the link to God, the world and the Jewish people.

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Rabbi Ismar Schorsch

Rabbi Ismar Schorsch served as chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary.