“You shall not cause pain to any widow or orphan.” Exodus 22:21
The Torah admonishes us to be particularly sensitive to the needs of a widow or orphan, to be conscious of their pain and their loneliness.
I heard a chilling story once about a rabbi and his wife who had served a small community for over 40 years (an amazing feat it and of itself!). Part of their compensation was the house they lived in. Yet as soon as the rabbi passed away, the board evicted his wife from their home.
We gasp in horror at such a tale, yet we ourselves may not always be as thoughtful – in the small and larger ways – as we should be. When my son was in one of his earlier grades (it’s all a blur now so don’t quiz me on which one!) his teacher was a young widow with a houseful of children. One night my son forgot to do his homework and I remember giving her the lame excuse that my husband was out of town so I couldn’t get to it. I could have bitten my tongue as soon as the words left my mouth. This woman’s husband was now never around to help or ease her burden. In my weak efforts to assuage my guilt about the homework, I may have inadvertently caused her pain. Because I thought about myself instead of her before I spoke.
While we don’t want our conversations to be artificial (that can be just as awkward and painful), we need to evaluate the consequences of our words before we say them, not after.
The plight of widows was highlighted for me recently when a friend told me this story: She (my pal Sara) is, thank God, not a widow. He husband was simply out of town for the two crucial weeks when the daughter of her close friend, Beth, was getting married. Sara felt very badly about the timing. Her husband was upset that he couldn’t participate in the simcha. Additionally, Sara usually makes Sheva Brachos, a post-wedding celebratory meal for her friend’s children, but without her husband to do the heavy lifting and lead the event, she didn’t feel comfortable. She explained to Beth who of course understood, and they danced with joy together at the wedding.
But Sara did not get invited to even one Sheva Bracha. “I got just a taste this week,” she told me, “of what it must be like to be a widow.” And I got the chills once again.
It’s hard to think of everyone. It’s hard to deal with so many needs (especially when the ones in your own home scream so loudly!) but the fact that the Torah especially singles out widows and orphans teaches us something – it’s too easy to forget about them; and their pain is very great. It’s a new level of sensitivity to add to our daily consciousness. It can only lead to future growth and greater love for your fellow Jew.