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‘Second Chances’ by Levi Meier Z”L: A Remembrance

Rabbi Meier was a Renaissance man, a brilliant teacher, an original Jewish voice and a man of compassion.
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June 19, 2024

Levi Meier was fond of saying that we are all on a journey whether we know it or not. It is the journey that begins when we are born and ends when we die. In “Second Chances,” Rabbi Meier illuminates that journey by drawing parallels between our journeys and the difficult and at times tragic journey of Ruth. The book is a rich source of biblical scholarship as well as a guide to help us deal with difficulties along the way.  

The Book of Ruth, which we read during the holiday of Shavuot begins, like many Biblical stories, with a famine in the land. A wealthy Jew and his wife Naomi take their sons and their sons’ wives, the Moabite princesses Ruth and Orpah, out of Israel and into Moab. He intends to avoid the famine and evade helping his fellow Jews in a national time of need. Ruth’s life, Orpah’s life and that of their mother-in-law Naomi undergo a catastrophic convulsion when all the men in their lives die suddenly. Devastated, Naomi is left to face the world with two young daughters-in-law, neither of whom is Jewish or has children. Naomi urges them to remain in Moab, remarry and start new lives. Naomi tells them she will return to Israel to try to put the pieces of her life together. Orpah decides to stay in Moab. But in a stunning gesture Ruth declares that she will stay with Naomi.  In an act of loving kindness, she states, “Do not urge me to desert you. To turn away from you.  For wherever you go, I shall go; wherever you rest, I will rest; your people are my people, and your God is my God.” She is taking a step into the unknown. This has become the statement of conversion – which is used to this very day when gentiles convert to Judaism.

Rabbi Meier points out Ruth is not just taking on the form of Naomi’s faith, she is becoming one with it. There is nothing tentative in her action. She is embarking on the very journey of Abraham, when God instructed him in Genesis 12:1, “lech lecha — go forth from your father’s house, your birthplace, to the land I will show you.” The parallels between the two are stunning. Meier further points out “Any person who would undertake such a difficult, dangerous and frightening journey requires special divine protection. That is what was promised to Abraham when he became the first convert …”   

The relationship of Ruth and Naomi is one full of lovingkindness. Rabbi Meier points out that, “… even when Naomi is confronting her inner bitterness, she extends kindness to Ruth, and Ruth reciprocates in the same manner …  kindness as a response to pain, suffering and tragedy is one of the overriding themes of the Book of Ruth.” Rabbi Meier further states that individual acts of kindness can have repercussions well beyond themselves. Ruth accepts the kind offer of Boaz (whom she will later marry) to follow the harvesters and glean the grain that they leave behind. “She leaves some food uneaten, intending to take it home to share with Naomi. In this way Ruth takes advantage of an opportunity to repair the past – she demonstrates how different she is from her selfish Moabite forebears, who wanted to sell bread and water to Israelites wandering through the desert.” Ruth is ultimately rewarded for her great kindness by becoming the progenitor of King David and ultimately from whom the Messiah will come.

Drawing from his own experience as Chief Chaplain of Cedars Sinai Hospital as well as a clinical Jungian psychologist, Rabbi Meier shows that the way to transform bitterness and pain is through personal acts of generosity and kindness. The most important, yet the hardest, are acts of kindness within one’s own family. Some of the ideas in this book came to Rabbi Meier while he was teaching a Monthly Torah class to Hollywood writers which I organized for the Avi Chai Foundation.

Drawing from his own experience as Chief Chaplain of Cedars Sinai Hospital as well as a clinical Jungian psychologist, Rabbi Meier shows that the way to transform bitterness and pain is through personal acts of generosity and kindness.

“Second Chances” is filled with insight that is readily applicable to everyone. Using anecdotes from his clinical practice and life experiences, Rabbi Meier’s humanizing insights give the reader strength to take difficult steps on the journey we all are on. It is as timely now as it was when he wrote it. Rabbi Meier was a Renaissance man, a brilliant teacher, an original Jewish voice and a man of compassion. His untimely death was a profound loss for me personally as well as for our community. May his memory be a blessing.


David Brandes is the writer and producer of the award-winning film “The Quarrel.”

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