I am still reeling from an article I read recently in Ami Magazine. A father describes the experience of his daughter’s divorce, the challenges, the pain and the growth. It was an impressive, honest and heart-wrenching piece. But what left me with my mouth agape was his list of some of the comments that were actually made to him in the wake of that traumatic event:

“How embarrassing!”
“It will take her years to get remarried.”
“She will marry someone who also has a problem.”
“Just think how much money you spent.”
“I can only imagine how much debt you are in.”
“Was she abused?”
“They couldn’t have thought about that before they got married?”

I am actually reeling just from writing this. It’s not that the comments are wrong. They may be an accurate description. Some people (although I don’t think this father) may feel embarrassed. It may be a long while before she remarries – for many reasons (it may be a long while before she has any desire to remarry!). She will, more likely than not, marry someone who is also divorced (Is that considered also having a problem?). I’m sure a lot of money was spent. And so on…

But all this is beside the point. It’s not the truth behind the questions that’s in doubt. It’s not even the sincerity of the questioner or their genuine concern that’s in doubt. It’s their complete lack of sensitivity. How could anyone speak like this?

We’ve all had experiences where people have spoken to us without thinking. And I’m sure all of us have spoken without thinking a time or two as well. But hopefully not quite so blatantly or directly. Hopefully not quite so hurtfully. Hopefully not with such lack of compassion for the subject of our questions.

I was once at a shiva where an older husband had left a young widow. “Well you knew when you married him that he would probably die long before you,” remarked one visitor. She probably did but was it necessary to remind her of that? For what purpose?

I’m embarrassed for this stranger – not because his daughter got divorced but because he had to listen to all these thoughtless comments. I’m embarrassed for myself that people speak this way. And I’m taking it as yet another reminder of our need to be oh-so-careful when talking with others.

I imagine that I wouldn’t have a serious conversation with someone about their child’s divorce unless we were close friends. And I also imagine that if we were close friends, I wouldn’t speak that way to someone I loved. But we all make mistakes.

The author of the piece suggests that these hurtful remarks were the result of people not knowing what to say, of their discomfort. I think he gives them too much credit and, in my opinion, is working too hard to judge them favorably!

Yes they may have felt awkward. So don’t address it all. There are many other topics to speak of. Just like we try to avoid lashon hara (derogative speech) by discussing the weightier issues of the times or some Torah thoughts, the same would apply here. Certainly world news provides us with many opportunities for conversation!

We have an obligation to care about all of other fellow Jews, in fact about all of humanity – but not to befriend them all. If I were that father I would make some decisions about who my true friends are and who I want to spend time with.

And I would try to make some personal choices as well. I would try to put in place some safeguards so that I stop before I speak to ensure that my words will not be a source of pain or discomfort to anyone around me. We may not be able to do this perfectly but we can at least try.

Then perhaps this particular aspect of this father’s pain will not have gone to waste.