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A second chance for magic and selflessness

  • Vanessa
Last week’s parsha, Chayei Sarah (the life of Sara), relates, among other things, that Isaac married Rebecca at the age of 40 after his mother Sarah, who gave birth to him at the miraculous age of 90, had died.
by VANESSA VALKIN | Nov 11, 2015

Just before the marriage, Isaac made one of the greatest personal sacrifices mentioned in the Torah: he willingly accepted his father Abraham’s wish that he himself be sacrificed to G-d on Mount Moriah.

The lesson of self-sacrifice, that Isaac internalised before he was ready to tie the knot, the sages say, is a vital one for a successful marriage. It is human nature to consider one’s own needs ahead of others, but marriage involves shifting that considerably. Apart from the commitment and unselfishness to each other, the Jewish couple also sacrifices themselves to a shared ideal of creating a warm and welcoming home - which can be difficult when one is already 40 and set in one’s ways.

This was, personally, a most appropriate time for this parsha and its lessons. My interesting rite of passage last month was my own wedding. Although both of us have previously been married, we are also older and set in some of our patterns.  

In Jewish law, second marriages are understood in quite an interesting way, with some surprising practical and spiritual differences to first marriages - including no bedeken or veil required - a practice that actually began when Rebecca veiled herself before marrying Isaac.

A generally accepted Orthodox interpretation of divorce and remarriage is that a couple united in a first marriage are "bashert" or predestined for each other and share a soul connection from before birth. And while their souls may be a perfect fit (sometimes hard to believe), in real life they may be at odds with each other with clashing personalities and different life goals.

Jews actually have a Torah-directed responsibility to be married. Second marriages then, provide an opportunity to choose a person who is compatible with one's lifestyle and personality. According to the Talmud, the quality of one’s second partner depends on one’s deeds - as opposed to first spouses which are pre-determined.

Thus increasing one’s Torah study and mitzvah practices greatly improves the chances of finding a suitable individual with whom one will find happiness and tranquillity.

Beyond these halachic interpretations, another difference is that the bride and groom are likely to have some offspring present - as at mine. My new husband and I have three children between us.

For my own seven-year-old daughter, mom’s nuptials were a Disney fantasy brought to life -with flowers, tulle, lace and lipstick - she was not prepared to have anything less than a “real deal”, white wedding. Counting down the minutes till her walk to the chuppah, the ceremony with its accompanying expressions of admiration from all the guests, was her hour of glory.

For my husband’s teenage boys, dad’s wedding was perhaps more an embarrassment than anything else. Yet they handled it with grace and some amusement and with the strong, unquestioning support of a few of their closest friends.

Because wedding preparations could only begin when the Jewish Report’s Yomtov break began, it gave me scarcely three weeks before the mid-October date. This meant some last minute anxieties we had not anticipated - including a missing ketubah that was needed before the Beth Din in Cape Town would sign off on the marriage.

It all did come together and a caterer, photographer and Stellenbosch location were sourced in a matter of days. Not to mention the dress! The result was an intimate gathering of family and a few friends for a meaningful, elegant and very picturesque celebration.

As the vibrant and intelligent Rabbi Dovid Wineberg noted under the chuppah: a second marriage represents an acceptance that life is not always a fairytale, but it also represents the optimism that there is a second chance for magic and for selflessness (with Isaac as our inspiration) and to recreate family and a home, this time powered by the wisdom and humility that experience brings. 


  1. 2 Moira Schneider 13 Nov
    A most beautifully-crafted, moving and heart-warming editorial and most appropriate in the light of the parsha and the Gardens Shul coverage!
  2. 1 Choni 16 Nov
    May you and your (new) family enjoy Hashem's richest blessings for a happy and healthy future.


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