SALT - Sunday, 19 Shevat 5778 - Februrary 4, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
Dedicated in memory of Sondra Schwartz (שבע שיינדל בת דוד) z"l
by her son Dr. Avi and Sara Schwartz
            The Torah in Parashat Mishpatim introduces the prohibition against causing distress to a widow or orphan, and issues an especially stern warning to those who violate this law: “If you do oppress him – then when he cries out to Me, I shall assuredly heed his cry.  My anger will be roused, and I will kill you by the sword such that your wives will be widows, and your children, orphans” (22:22-23).  God warns that if a widow or orphan cries out to Him upon suffering mistreatment, He will respond harshly and punish the offenders.
            Rav Moshe Alshikh notes that this warning appears to call into question the Gemara’s comment in Masekhet Bava Kama (93a) condemning “ha-moser din al chaveiro” – one who calls upon God to punish his fellow for a perceived offense.  A person who asks God to punish somebody, the Gemara states, is himself punished.  The Gemara cites as its source the tense exchange between Sara and Avraham after Sara had Avraham marry her maidservant, Hagar, and she conceived.  Hagar began treating Sara disrespectfully, and Sara, in her frustration, cast the blame on Avraham and angrily said, “May the Lord judge between you and me” (Bereishit 16:5).  In the end, Sara died many years before Avraham, demonstrating that somebody who asks God to bring retribution upon another person receives punishment himself.  Seemingly, the Alshikh writes, this is precisely what is happening in the case described here in Parashat Mishpatim, when a widow or orphan cries out to God in response to the torment he or she suffers.  And yet, in such a situation, God promises to accept the victim’s cry and visit retribution upon those who oppressed the widow or orphan.  Why is this instance different from any other situation of “ha-moser din al chaveiro”?
            The Alshikh answers that God is the “father of orphans and judge of widows” (Tehillim 68:6), and this special relationship accounts for His special response to their cries when they are victimized.  God here says that He becomes the “father” for these vulnerable members of society, and He therefore listens to their cries.  An exception is made when widows and orphans are victimized because God has a special relationship with them.  As they do not have a husband or father to help them upon whom they can rely, God Himself assumes this role, so-to-speak, and this special bond compels Him to accept their pleas to punish those who take advantage of them.
            This concept is relevant, on one level or another, not only to widows and orphans, but to all of us in times when we feel alone, afraid and vulnerable.  As the verse in Sefer Yeshayahu (57:5) teaches, God resides, so-to-speak, specifically alongside “daka u-shfal ru’ach” – those who experience pain and distress.  When a person feels vulnerable, that he or she has nobody on whom to rely and whom to trust, God promises that He “resides” near that person and eagerly listens to his or her cries.  This knowledge should provide a degree of solace and comfort in times of fear and anguish, assuring us that even when we feel abandoned and helpless, God is by our side and hearing our prayers.