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September 18, 2014 / 23 Elul, 5774
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Second Chances

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Last week I shared a letter from a distraught mother who wrote about her family’s nightmarish experience: Two days prior to her daughter’s wedding, the groom sent his rabbi to inform the family he could not go through with the marriage.

Sadly, her situation is not an isolated one. In our troubled society we see such occurrences again and again. After last week’s column appeared, I received a number of letters and e-mails from parents who’d been in similar predicaments.

The following is one of those letters. B’ezrat Hashem I will respond to both letters, last week’s and this week’s, in next week’s column.

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis,

Every week I receive e-mails from Hineni on the parshah and print them out before Shabbos so that my children and guests can read and discuss them during the Shabbos meals. I particularly appreciate the insights of your son Rabbi Jungreis but was jarred when I read his column on Mishpatim, in which the laws of the Hebrew slave are mentioned.

When speaking of a Hebrew slave, the Torah is referring to a common thief who is unable to make restitution for his crime. In ancient Israel there were no jails; instead, a family would take in such a person in order to rehabilitate him and help him live an honorable Torah life. The law demands that he as well as his family be taken in, treated with dignity, and given the wherewithal to start a new life.

The lesson is obvious. If a common criminal must be treated with such dignity and respect, how much more so must we relate with respect to all our fellow men and give everyone another chance?

So what was it that jarred me about that parshah column? It was the concept of a second chance.

A year and half ago my daughter met a man. She fell head over heels for him. She was 28 at the time. Most of her friends were already married. From the time she graduated college she was always the bridesmaid, never the bride, though she’s a beautiful girl who involvers herself with communal tzedakah and chesed activities. So you can imagine how thrilled I was for her when she told me she’d met the man for her.

There was only one problem.

“Mom,” she said, “he was married once before, though briefly. It didn’t work out. They were both very young at the time and thankfully there were no children.”

I was a little surprised, but in today’s world hearing that someone has been divorced does not have the same connotations it did when I was growing up. I told my daughter I believed in second chances but that she should get to know him better before making a long-lasting commitment. She took my advice. There was no rush. Seven months later he proposed and she was ecstatic.

Suddenly, though, I was filled with trepidation. When my good friend called to wish me a mazel tov, I broke down. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” I said. “I davened for this, and now that it’s happened I’m so worried.”

My friend told me it was normal to have these feelings and that when the shock wore off I’d be happy and busy planning a wedding. She was right about one of her predictions. I was busy. But I was not happy. Slowly reports started coming in. People who never speak a word of lashon hara were asking me if I really knew the man’s family. Others were telling me to examine his background. I didn’t know what to do.

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