Rainbows: The Power of Second Chances by Gevura Davis
Rainbows: The Power of Second Chances
One day during Sukkot, I suddenly felt pain in my left arm. It persisted, and I finally turned to Dr. Google (sorry, doctor friends, but yes, I am one of those). Even though, thank G-d, I was feeling healthy and well, I couldn’t ignore the nagging words that kept playing in my mind – “for women, persistent pain in the left arm could be a sign of heart disease.”
I’m really not a hypochondriac, but a doctor friend suggested I get it checked out. My doctor was understanding and pretty confident that I wasn’t having a heart attack, but suggested a routine EKG to confirm. When she found a potential abnormality and recommended blood tests and an immediate trip to the hospital for more in-depth testing, my heart and mind began to race.
I didn’t want to play out worst-case scenarios, but when I read possible causes for inverted T waves, I was overwhelmed: acute coronary disease, neurological, pulmonary, and more. I grew up around disease and illness, so while I understood it was probably a normal anomaly, which my doctor said was the most common scenario, I couldn’t discount the possibility that G-d forbid my health was in danger. Serious danger.
The hospital wasn’t able to schedule me until the next day, so I had about 20 hours to brew over the potential unknowns. And suddenly I had a lot of thoughts. About a lot of things.
Besides the pain and fear surrounding the future of my children and husband, my mind was raising difficult questions. Would my life was going to be cut short, G-d forbid? Had I lived life to the fullest? Have I achieved my purpose in life? Have I maximized my opportunities? How much time, thought, and energy have I wasted on things that suddenly seemed so insignificant?
As I prepared that entire morning and drove to the hospital with trepidation and tears, I could only repeat one prayer in my head over and over again: Please, Almighty G-d, give me second chance. Please, let me live a long, full life in good health. I promise to try harder with my life.
Sure enough, after a long stress test and other heart examinations, the doctor was pleased to tell me that my heart is in excellent condition, and a small percentage of people just have that abnormality and it was of no true significance to my health.
G-d had answered my prayers, and I felt a tremendous surge of energy to be loyal to my foxhole commitments and make the most out of my life. I made all sort of grandiose, unattainable promises: never to yell at my husband or kids again, never take a day for granted, never to sweat the small stuff, let the people I love know it every day and in every way possible, be the kindest person I could be, stop wasting time and start maximizing my potential, be a more loyal community member, smile at random strangers, wake up early to watch the sunrise. And that first day after the scare, I did all of them.
But then the next day came. How quickly inspiration can fade and reality can bring us back down to planet earth! My kids were annoying me. My to-do list was growing. Pressures were rising again, and getting through each day with a smile and fortitude became challenging once more.
The cook-clean-repeat cycle of the holidays can be challenging. It wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate the gift of health, but the facts of life retook my mental, physical, and spiritual energy. And my same patterns of challenges and routine returned from the break of thinking about more existential issues during the scare.
To be honest, I was pretty down on myself. Combined with the fact that new year's resolutions were proving harder than I imagined to keep, I felt a bit like a loser. Here I had been given this second chance and I wasn’t able to maintain that heightened spiritual level.
Then I read through this week’s incredible Torah portion, the story of Noah, and I found comfort and meaning in this pattern of making mistakes and rebuilding myself. As we all learned in Sunday school as children: the planet was overrun with immoral behavior beyond repair, so G-d destroyed the entire world, save one righteous man and his family.
After a year living on the ark with his family and the animals, they finally are able to take their first steps on dry land. With a brand new clean slate, Noah disembarks onto the ultimate opportunity for second chances. His sacred mission is to rebuild a ruined world. What is his first act as he steps foot into this tremendous and awesome responsibility?
He makes an offering to G-d, and G-d sees Noah’s attempts to draw close to the Almighty. What is G-d’s response? G-d promises to never destroy the world again, because it is the nature of humans to make mistakes. The rainbow is the sign of this new covenant and faith in mankind. (Genesis 8:21, 9:8-16)
From this biblical episode we learn an incredible principal. G-d created us to make mistakes. The trick is getting back up and staying committed to our principles, not dropping them because they are hard. The Torah teaches that our entire lives are an exercise in cultivating ourselves to become the best we can be. It is not an overnight process. Life, and becoming our best selves is a marathon, not a sprint. There will be setbacks. There will be lapses. This is guaranteed.
The challenge is staying true to our ideals. To believe in the best version of ourselves, and work through the daily grind to get there. We can be more disciplined, more giving, more kind, more loyal, more committed, and more loving people. And just like Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither are people. We strive and we struggle and we make mistakes. Lots of them.
The key is to stay inspired through the drudgery of the hard work, which is what creates lasting change. Noah is the perfect person to learn this from, because the Torah tells us he was righteous in his generation. While everyone else was falling and caving in to the desire to get away from spirituality, he was carefully building himself up.
This is our noble task in this world: to continue striving to be better. G-d believes in our greatness and so must we. We are reminded of this every time we see a rainbow. People aren’t perfect, but we are beautiful, spiritual beings with tremendous potential for good. From now on, each year when I read this Torah portion or see a rainbow, I will remember the power of second chances and how G-d chose me to be alive for a reason. Each day we are each alive and well, G-d is showing that He believes in us.
Gevura Davis is Director of Women's Programming for Etz Chaim Philadelphia where she enjoys meeting and connecting to Jewish women of all ages and backgrounds.