Halacha Date: 23 Tevet 5780 January 20 2020
The Torah states (Shemot 22): “You shall not oppress any widow or orphan. If you oppress them and they call out to me, I shall surely hear their cry. My anger shall flare and I shall kill you with the sword; your wives shall then be widows and your children orphans.” The Torah explains that Hashem is very concerned about the honor of the downtrodden, namely widows and orphans. The Torah explicitly states the punishment for oppressing them which is imminent death; this sin is indeed too great to bear.
Rabbeinu Bechaye writes (in his commentary on Bereshit 37) quotes a Midrash where our Sages teach us that when the Torah warns us to preserve the honor of widows and orphans, this refers even to a king’s widow. The reason for this is because “their spirits are low and their tears are frequent.” He explains that the reason why Hashem listens to the prayers of widows and orphans because regarding other individuals, when others oppress them, they can turn to their friends for help and support; however, since widows and orphans have no one to save them, they only rely on Hashem and Hashem therefore hears their cry and wages their battles.
The Midrash (see Otzar Ha’Midrashim, page 262) states that our Sages taught that when Moshe Rabbeinu ascended to Mount Sinai, he was shown everything that went on there. He observed the angels singing Hashem’s praises and other amazing scenes. He was then shone wicked individuals who were hanging upside-down and completely inflicted with bitter and harsh punishments from head to toe. These wicked individuals screamed, “Put us to death already!” as the verse states, “They waited for death but it would not come.” Moshe asked the angels, “What did these people do to deserve this?” The angels replied, “These individuals oppressed widows and orphans.”
The reason why it would sometimes seem that the prayers of widows and orphans do not come to fruition is because the Gemara (Shabbat 33a) states that as a result of vulgar speech, harsh decrees and calamities are renewed, the lads of the Jewish nation perish, and widows and orphans cry and are not answered, as the verse states, “Because of this Hashem shall not rejoice upon his lads and shall not pity His orphans and widows; because they are all flatterers and evil and every mouth has spoken obscenities.” Nonetheless, Hashem is trustworthy in that He hears the prayers of widows and orphans above all other prayers. Anyone who oppresses them places himself in clear and present danger.
Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l was extremely careful to safeguard the honor of widows and orphans and his door was always open for them. Indeed, he fundraised for widows and orphans many times. Once, when he heard about a lonely widow, the wife of a certain great rabbi who had passed away, sent our very own Hagaon Harav Yaakov Sasson Shlit”a (author of the Hebrew Halacha Yomit) to bless this widow in his name and to find out how she was doing. When he heard that his granddaughter’s husband was travelling to Netanya, Maran requested of him (of his own volition) to take along one of his newly published books with a personalized dedication to a widow of rabbi who had recently passed away in that city. When Maran heard that the widow was truly glad to receive the book, he was overjoyed and recited the verse, “And I shall gladden the heart of a widow.”
We shall discuss several other details related to this law in the following Halacha.