Dear Emuna,

I am a college student who is on the path to living a life of Torah Judaism. I find it incredibly intriguing and fulfilling and I am really enjoying the journey. There is only one problem. In high school, I was a bit wild. I got into just about any crazy situation a teenage girl could get into. I had intimate relationships and liked to "party”. Now that I am learning to value myself more and am building my self-esteem, I can't help but feel guilty and awful about my past. I often feel like a hypocrite and worry people think I am mocking Judaism because of my drastic change to the "good girl." How do I forgive myself and move forward? Will I ever find a nice Jewish boy who will accept and love me anyways?

Former Party Animal

Dear Moving Forward,

You are to be applauded for your courage and effort. It’s not easy to grow and change, to leave the past behind – under any circumstances. It’s difficult to acknowledge our mistakes. It’s challenging to adopt new behaviors and viewpoints and I give you tremendous credit for all the hard work I know you are doing.

As I’ve said many times, despite the teachings of popular culture, guilt is NOT a Jewish idea. Because it’s a completely unproductive emotion. It’s a total waste of time and energy. You recognize you’ve made some mistakes. You regret certain past behaviors (you “feel awful”). And you are trying to change (thereby obviating the need to continue to “feel awful”!).

I’m sure that, with the guidance of your teachers, you are working on teshuvah, on repairing your relationship with the Almighty and returning to His loving embrace. You are anything but a hypocrite. Moving forward and growing without being “there” yet does not make us hypocritical. Who, after all, is “there” yet? The charge of hypocrisy is only legitimately leveled at those who are no longer growing but who sit in smug self-righteous judgment of others. That is clearly not you!

In fact, you are a role model. And a nice Jewish boy would consider himself lucky to find a serious, idealistic, growth-oriented girl like you. Don’t worry about finding someone to marry. The God who led you on this path of return, the God who created the world and took the Jewish people out of Egypt, the God in whose arms you have found your home is the God who makes matches. He won’t forget about you. And He’s even prouder of you and more impressed with you than I am!

Emuna

Mother’s Ultimatum

Dear Emuna,

Although my mother does not have a 'close' relationship with any of her children or children-in-law, there is one daughter-in-law that she does not get along with at all. She has asked me not to invite my brother and his wife to my home for meals. My husband does want me to invite them and he says I absolutely do not have to obey this request of hers. I enjoy having them over; however the stress of the possibility of my mom walking in when they are here is killing me. This has happened in the past and my mother made me feel like a disloyal daughter.

Caught in the Middle

Dear Caught,

It is crucial for you to know and understand that the commandment to honor your mother and your father does NOT include obeying a request to exclude a sibling and his family from your home or your love. You have no responsibility to adhere to that demand. On the contrary, your husband’s wishes (and yours) take precedence.

I’m sorry for your mother that she seems to have created such a lonely life for herself, having a limited relationship with most of her children and none at all with one of her daughter-in-laws. And I’m sure you don’t want to replicate her behavior in any way – including the aspect of having no relationship with the aforementioned sister-in-law.

Maybe it will be stressful on a few occasions if your mother keeps walking in on your family and your brother’s. If it becomes unpleasant, that will be your mother’s choice and not yours. Either she will force herself to be more cordial to her daughter-in-law or she will learn to call first before just dropping by.

But don’t give in to her blackmail.

Loyalty is not the same as blind obedience. Loyalty doesn’t mean sharing prejudices, rude behavior and bad character. You are responsible for your behavior and you have an obligation to the best person you can be. That includes showing kindness to your brother and sister-in-law and not allowing yourself to be bullied into unattractive behavior.

Children should not have to choose between their parents and their siblings. Unfortunately your Mother has put you in a terrible position. And she has made your appropriate choice obvious.

Emuna

How Do Young Couples Make Enough Money?

Dear Emuna,

I read your column everyday and love your blunt and strait to the point honesty. Thank you! I am in my early 20's and so is the guy I've been dating for awhile. We are both working full time jobs while schooling at night. We would like to get engaged in the near future, but we have a dilemma. How are all these young couples, without degrees or real jobs that make "real money" making it? We are taking all the necessary steps to save up and are both very diligent and money conscious people. Neither of us are big spenders or high maintenance and we both know how to stretch money and budget. We both don't want to be living from paycheck to paycheck. The thought of that stresses me.

I will be starting a full-time graduate program soon and that would mean we would be a subject to a single income, as I know that I would not be able to handle work and graduate school at the same time. I don't think resorting to living off of student loans would be conducive to starting a healthy marriage. When I've asked married friends, the answer varies, but always comes down to parental help, which would not be the case for us. Any insight would help? How do they do it?

Living on a Shoestring

Dear Careful Budgeter,

Isn’t that the question we’re all asking? I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint you. I don’t have a simple straightforward answer.

Everyone’s means and needs are different. Some couples are willing and able to make do with very little; others have higher financial expectations and greater material needs. I’m not judging one or the other. Everyone needs to know themselves and what they can realistically live with (not their ideal or their fantasy - their reality). It sounds like you fall into the first category and that your material wants are few and simple. If that assessment is true, it should be easier for you to “make it”.

But I won’t sugarcoat the situation. It’s a really tough economy right now and financial issues can be a source of stress to many young (and old!) couples.

Yet, what’s the alternative? Wait indefinitely to get married? Is there ever some magic point where you would feel “Now I’m financially stable and we can safely get married”? Despite our politicians’ promises (and some really dreadful debates!), no one really knows when things will turn around (or how to get them there).

So, at some basic level, it comes down to bitachon, to trusting God. We are taught that on Rosh Hashanah, the Almighty (among His other tasks) determines our income for the year. We have to make a reasonable effort to merit the designated amount but, beyond that, it’s out of our hands.

Young Jewish couples are frequently given the blessing that they should build a faithful home in Israel, a home built on faith and trust. I think that if this is the focus on your home, your financial issues won’t fade away, but you will, in fact, truly “make it”.

Emuna