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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mishpatim, Shemos 22:21. Afflicting Widows and Orphans

כא כל אלמנה ויתום לא תענון.  כב אם ענה תענה אותו כי אם צעוק יצעק אלי שמוע אשמע צעקתו.  כג וחרה אפי והרגתי אתכם בחרב והיו נשיכם אלמנות ובניכם יתומים. 

והיו נשיכם אלמנות: ממשמע שנאמר והרגתי אתכם, איני יודע שנשיכם אלמנות ובניכם יתומים, אלא הרי זו קללה אחרת, שיהיו הנשים צרורות כאלמנות חיות, שלא יהיו עדים למיתת בעליהן ותהיינה אסורות להנשא והבנים יהיו יתומים, שלא יניחום בית דין לירד לנכסי אביהם לפי שאין יודעים אם מתו אם נשבו:

The passuk says that if a person afflicts a widow or orphan, if they cry out to Hashem He will listen and His anger will burn and the oppressor will be killed, and his wife will be a widow and his children orphans.  Rashi asks, if he is killed, then to say that his wife will be a widow and his children orphans is redundant.  Rashi answers that there will be a double tragedy- that there will be no witnesses to his death, and his wife will never be able to marry for fear that her husband is still alive; his heirs will never be able to take over their estate because the court will require proof of their father's death.  Thus, the passuk is saying that his wife will forever remain a widow and his children forever orphans.  Their loss will be ongoing- they will never have the closure that would allow them to move on to a normal life.

For some reason, I feel a special desire to say something from Harav Baruch Sorotzkin.  Here is a true mussar haskeil from Harav Baruch Sorotzkin, as relayed by Harav Shimon Kalman Goldstein, who learned with him bechavrusa second seder for seven years.

1.  What is the Middah Ke'neged Middah underlying the terrible punishment here?  What is it in his behavior that warrents the punishment that his wife will be left forever disconsolate and his children unable to use what he left for them?   

2.  Why are so many words repeated in these pesukim?  ענה תענה, צעוק יצעק, and שמוע אשמע?  

Harav Sorotzkin answered that when you hurt a regular person, the pain he suffers is from what you did to him.  When you hurt a widow or an orphan, not only do they suffer the pain of the wound you inflict, but the widow knows that if her husband were alive, he would protect her- but he died.  The orphans know that if their father were alive, he would protect them, they wouldn't be miserable and abandoned- but he died and left them alone.  When you hurt a widow or an orphan, you are hurting them twice.  Not only do they suffer the pain of what you did directly, but they re-experience their loss of their husband and their father, you open an old wound and multiply their pain.  The Ribono shel Olam says, if  ענה תענה, if you inflict this double pain, and  צעוק יצעק אלי, then שמוע אשמע, I will do to you what you did to them.  Your family will not only lose you, but the pain of their loss will never end.  Your widow will never be able to re-marry, and your children never will gain access to what you put away for them.  Every day they will be reminded that you are not there.  


Anonymous said...

how does Hashem's anger at the oppressor help the victim? even if she/he actually learns of the killing, is something so drastic as death what she/he wants to hear (is that what they cried out should occur)?

what's Hashem's logic here? if
He opposes oppression of widows & orphans, why then would He decide to make* more of them, & those with the worst possible plight (neverending pain**)?
what, it's wrong for us to do, but okay for Him ('do as I say, not as I do')?
or is His threat of payback so
intimidating that He'll never need
to execute? but we know that such victimization nonetheless occurred!

*collateral damage, like a breath of fresh air!

**do the oppressor's wife & child
necessarily & knowingly benefit from their husband's/father's exploitation of the widow/orphan?
are they in every case in a position to protest his
mistreatings, but don't?
(maybe one can imagine that only where the above 2 conditions apply, does the victim cry out--
"IF they cry out to Hashem He will listen" [though the "if" then resonates less with what Rav Feivelsohn says in the name of Rav Levenstein, penultimate paragraph, jan. 26])

Eliezer said...

Punishment is not the same as compensation. Our theory of punishment is midda k'neged midda, that the evil action creates consequences, like putting your finger into the electrical outlet has consequences. The consequence of sin is suffering.

The suffering of the innocent is the foundation stone of atheism. It has puzzled everything in creation, from angel to prophet. How it fits into our image of a loving God is a fine question. I wonder if we'll ever have an answer.

But I do know that there are some sins that effect the innocent people around the evildoer: These include false oaths, failure to fulfill promises, engendering divisions and fighting in a community, and this- causing pain to widows and orphans.

In any case, the Gemara says that G-d engineers the existence of the weak and helpless so that we can become Godlike by lifting them up.

Anonymous said...

the comment "if He opposes oppression of widow & orphans, why
...make more" needs clarification:
the states of widowhood & parentlessness are irreducibly
oppressive in themselves (so to
make more of each is to oppress
more of each, even before the addition of human oppressors or of
Neverending pain, even after communal compassion)

this is more than midan k'neged midah (if by that we mean a certain
symmetry)-- did the oppressor kill
(as Hashem kills him) the husband of the widow, or the father of the child? did he permanently prevent
her remarriage, or his receipt of
inheritance (even if he did cause
them a temporary double pain)?