To the Letter of the Law
By Rabbi Raymond Beyda
You shall not cause pain to any widow or orphan. If you dare cause him
pain…! - For if he shall cry out to Me I shall surely hear his outcry. My
wrath shall blaze… (Shemot 22:21-24)
The portion of Mishpatim is a collection of many different laws. Many of
the commandments are those that stress sensitivity to the feelings of
others especially the downtrodden. Treatment of the poor, the sick and of
orphans and widows is of primary importance to the Torah Jew.
Rabbi Naftali Amsterdam zt’l was a student of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter zt’l.
He once told Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian zt’l that he had noticed that his mentor
Rabbi Salanter changed his daily routine and was not coming to the Study
Hall and the Synagogue as early as he had done in the past. When asked
Rabbi Salanter explained, “My wife has brought in a live in helper, who
happens to be a widow. I do not want to leave early because she might feel
obligated to disturb her sleep in order to lock up behind me. I must be
careful not to violate the commandment “Do not cause pain to any widow”.
“By the way”, added Rabbi Salanter, “One should not suggest that I find a
nice and honorable way to release her from our employ and then I could go
back to my previous routine. That can’t be an option because one who heard
that would conclude that one should never hire a widow. That - of course -
That is how our greats lived according to the precepts of the Torah.
In contrast there is a story about a young married student who was very
particular to fulfill every mitzvah with all its stringencies. In his
first year of marriage his wife requested that they spend the Succot
holiday with her mother in Yerushalayim. He agreed and they made the trip
arriving just a few hours before the holiday. When he saw the sukkah that
his mother-in-law had adjacent to her home he noticed that it did not
comply with one of the Rabbinical stringencies required by the great of
the generation the Hazon Ish. He knew he could not get back to his home
town before the holiday nor did he have time to rebuild the Sukkah to
conform to the opinion of the Gedol haDor. Instead, he went to eat and
sleep in a neighbor’s sukkah.
What was the widow’s reaction? She cried all night long. And so did his
A Rabbi who heard about the incident commented, “He keeps the Rabbinical
law of the Hazon Ish and violates the Torah commandment not to disturb an
orphan or a widow!”
Very often we call a Rabbi because we need a ruling on a Halakhic issue.
We cooked some meat with dairy pots, or some other situation which we know
may be a problem but we are not sure what to do. How come we don’t make a
ruling for ourselves? “I am not a posek (one qualified to rule on Halakhic
issues)” would be our quick response. Well, we should all be aware that
our treatment of others is also halakhah and we are not qualified to rule
on issues of Lashon HaRa, or monetary law and certainly on our treatment
The solution is twofold. Choose a highly qualified Rabbi to be your mentor
and the one you go to for clarification of Torah law. Second, study laws
and also ethics (mussar) so that you will sense that your behavior or
situation is one that requires a ruling from one other than yourself. Try
and live to the letter of the law not merely as you understand it but also
in the manner in which Hashem intended. "Its ways are ways of pleasantness
and all of its paths are Peace."
Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Raymond Beyda and Torah.org.