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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.

Nevertheless, in my efforts to be fair I kept telling myself, as I’d told my daughter, that everyone deserves a second chance. My daughter was happy. I could not ask for anything more. I didn’t want to destroy her spirits.

We booked a major hotel for a big wedding. We hired an orchestra and a florist. We had gowns made for my daughter and her bridesmaids. Tuxedos were bought for the two little boys who were to carry the rings. A caterer was hired. Deposits were sent to all the vendors. The invitations went out in the mail.

But the whispers about my prospective son-in-law continued, though now I was hearing specific things. What was I to do? How was I, a widow without anyone to help me, supposed to act now that I had more troubling information not only about the young man but about his family as well? How could I tell this to my daughter without devastating her? On the other hand, how could I keep quiet and see her embark upon a possibly suicidal course?

Was my desire to see my daughter married and have her give me grandchildren more important to me than finding out the truth about her man? Meanwhile, the wheels were in motion. The responses to the invitations were coming in. The wedding was just weeks away.

Finally I decided I had to act. I picked up the phone and called the family of this man’s first wife. The negative reports I’d already heard were nothing compared to what I was now hearing. I did some further checking and learned that what the family told me was factual. I had to let my daughter know. I braced myself for what I knew would be a difficult, perhaps heartbreaking, encounter.

“Sweetheart,” I said, “I love you very much and want you to be happy. But I could never forgive myself if I didn’t tell you what I now know. I spoke with Mr. S., who as you know is a righteous and honorable man who would never speak ill about anyone. But when it comes to a shidduch, Jewish law dictates that you must tell the truth in order to avert disaster. He knows your dad is no longer here to protect you and is genuinely concerned because the person you are about to marry is not the person you think he is.”

But didn’t you tell me everyone deserves another chance?” my daughter cried out.

“Yes,” I replied. “I did say that and I’m sorry, but this information is impossible to ignore.”

To make a long story short, my daughter decided she would postpone the wedding. But with her decision to postpone came another reality that was more painful than anything I’d ever experienced. My little girl literally shut me out of her life. She wouldn’t talk to me. She wanted nothing to do with me. She started going to couples therapy with him. Every attempt I made to reach out to her was met with sadness and silence.

Baruch Hashem, time is the great healer and my daughter has been getting over her hard feelings and we’ve begun to repair our relationship. But while I believe she is stronger and wiser for the experience, I no longer believe in second chances.

Continued next week

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