My previous two columns featured letters from mothers whose daughters experienced the trauma of a wedding being called off just days before the scheduled simcha. How can parents protect their children from such painful experiences? Unfortunately, there is no magic wand, no guarantee. It’s one thing to see your children get engaged but something else again to see them under the chuppah pledging to build a true Jewish home.
I will respond to the second letter-writer first – the woman who overcame her initial skepticism about giving a person a second chance, only to discover to her dismay that the second chance didn’t work.
In biblical times the Jewish people never had a prison system. Instead, a person who broke the law – a thief, for example – was taken in by a family whose task it was to rehabilitate him so that he might reenter the Jewish community with dignity and honor. Such a person was referred to as an eved Ivri, a Hebrew slave.
Citing the Torah example of the eved Ivri, our letter-writer informed me that she wanted to give a second chance to the young man her daughter was planning to marry, despite all the negative reports she’d heard about him and some questionable behavior she herself had witnessed.
But the concept of eved Ivri has no bearing on a shidduch candidate. In one instance we are referring to a man who stole and is taken in by a family who will teach him how to live by Torah and mitzvot. Thus he’s given a second chance to become an honorable member of Am Yisrael.
A young wife, however, cannot be a “foster mother” or a policeman or a rebbe who has to discipline her husband. Husbands and wives are meant to be partners, kings and queens of their families. They trust each other implicitly and they in turn are entrusted by Hashem with the holy task of bringing forth a new generation to become part of the Jewish people.
To give people with flawed character traits and even a criminal history a second chance may work in some areas of life but to do so for potential marriage candidates is potentially suicidal. A wife is not the person to mold and reshape a man whose traits are wanting and reprehensible.
Yes, a wife can and should inspire a man to study Torah, daven with a minyan and give tzedakah, but to attempt to change his personality and character is beyond her purview. Perhaps during the dating period such a man can put up a false front and perhaps through his charisma can sell a bogus story about his past that portrays him as victim rather than a villain. His charm attracts her. She finds him magnetic. She’s in love. Once they are married, however, the truth emerges and the tribulations begin. The tragedy affects not only the young wife but their children and future generations as well.
I have heard variations of this problem from many young women who come to see me. “Rebbetzin, I met this wonderful person. He’s so good. He’s everything I ever dreamed of. There are a few problems, though, that I’d like to talk to you about. He has some nasty habits. He loses his temper easily, though he always apologizes. I discussed this with him and he promised me he will change. And once we’ll be married it will be so much easier for him to be the man I would like him to be.”
These girls are starry eyed and innocent, full of hope and idealism. They really think they can change a man, make him the perfect husband and loving father.
I hate to dash their hopes, but I have to tell them the truth. The words of the Torah speak loud and clear: “Do not place a stumbling block in front of a blind person.” Meaning if someone is blind to the consequences of her actions, it is our responsibility to enlighten her so that she can avoid disaster.
As I recently told a young woman who came to me thinking she would mold her fiancée once they became husband and wife, “Take a good look at him. What you see now is what he is, and after marriage things do not become better. If anything, they become worse. He no longer needs to romance you. He got what he wanted. If a change can be made, it must occur before the marriage. And this change cannot be just for few days or few weeks or even a few months.”
The girl’s eyes filled with tears. “I realize you’re right, Rebbetzin, but it’s so painful. It’s not the answer I wanted to hear.”
“I know,” I gently told her. “Reality is very often painful, but it is better to go through the pain now for a short while than to live a lifetime of pain.”
This young lady had not found her fiancée through the traditional shidduch approach, in which young men and women and their families are vetted and only after careful scrutiny will parents grant their permission to dating and marriage. I must add, however, that even with the most careful research, tragedy can still occur. Of course, this does not in any way absolve parents from doing their due diligence in researching potential mates for their children.
I will respond to the concerns of the first letter-writer next week.Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis