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What does the Torah say about how to treat a widow or orphan?

by Rabbi Mendy Hecht


Library » Jewish Identity » Love thy Neighbor | Subscribe | What is RSS?


A. The Torah says (Exodus 22:21) “Do not mistreat widows and orphans.” This is Negative Mitzvah #256. Treating widows and orphans properly is a form of Tzedakah, which, as explained, is the right response for the situation. Widows and orphans face the daily pain of a lost husband or father, so this Mitzvah installs a societal safeguard around their aching hearts, making it mandatory to go easy on them. Not only that, but widows and orphans are more susceptible to mistreatment and financial struggles, and therefore needy of special consideration and support.

B. G-d warns strongly against any wrongdoing against widows and orphans (Exodus 22:22-23): “If you mistreat them, and they cry out to Me, I will hear their cry..."

C. Notice the psychology at play here: the Torah says “...widows and orphans.” Why not “widowers?” What if the wife dies, stranding the husband with a bunch of small kids? The reason that a widower is not mentioned is because general mistreatment and financial difficulties would be more likely experienced by a widow than a widower, though both genders feel intense grief and need special consideration and support. Halachically speaking, a widow/er remains a widow/er until s/he remarries (makes sense), and an orphan is considered an orphan until he or she is old enough to support him or herself.

"If you mistreat them, and they cry out to Me, I will hear their cry..."
How do I “not mistreat widows and orphans”?

1. Think the thought

Think about their needs and feelings, and what your needs and feelings would be if you were in their shoes. Use your common sense. Ask yourself, “What could they use right now?”

2. Talk the talk

Here’s the core of the Mitzvah: Do not talk toughly to them. Because their feelings are tender and raw, set your mouth on Extra-Gentle, and don’t speak to them as you normally would to anyone else.

3. Action

Get them back on their feet. In life-insurance-ese, indemnify them: make them whole again. Restore what’s missing from their life as best you can. And don’t go hard on them. If the widow owes you money, wait a little longer than you normally would before you ask for it back. If your student’s grades are sagging ‘cause he just lost his dad, look after him a little more than other students. Pump up the praise, prune the punishment. Whatever your interaction with the widow or orphan, do what would be kinder and gentler (where did I hear that?) than your standard reaction.

TAGS: widow, orphan


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Posted by: Anonymous on Jan 05, 2006

I thought that we are to show compassion for all. Not just orphans and widows? Showing compassion when we don't want to is the hardest thing of all. I can only speak for myself as being adopted twice and then having to live on my own at 15. People are cruel, they call you a bastard etc.., people are tougher on you because you don't belong. We are in essence a burden to people and we really don't belong. I can tell you that for me it was easier for people to abuse me becuase there is no one to tell them to stop. There are no loving arms to kiss the brusies or the hurt that they inflict. There is no one to come to the hospital to take care of you when you have been hurt by people. I pray often and ask forgivness for things I have done and the mistakes that I will make. We as ones who don't belong should show compassion for all people too. We should understnd that compasion for all people is hard and we should as ones who don't belong or have been widowed show compassion too.


Posted by: Anonymous, Jerusalem, Israel on Sep 14, 2006

All I can say is that as both a widow and a stranger I've met with nothing but kindness since reaching Israel, and that goes triple for Jerusalem. I've seen the same true between the men here particularly, or maybe I just notice it more because my own culture doesn't value overt kindness in men... but the wonderful care and concern expressed between the guys in this society seems more likely why widowers don't need special mention than the 'men are tougher' theory.

So, to the other anonymous poster - make aliyah if you can! Or, if you already did that and things still aren't working out for you, find a town whose philosophy allows your soul to find some peace. Israel surely has the full range of possibilities in a very small space :)


Mitzvot » Love thy Neighbor

(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
"Tzedakah," commonly translated as charity, literally means righteousness, or the right thing to do. Giving to those in need is one of the most important of G-d's commandments.
According to Jewish law.
1. The miraculous departure of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage in 1312 BCE. 2. The second of the Five Books of Moses. This book describes the aforementioned Exodus, the giving of the Torah, and the erection of the Tabernacle.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.