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Browse Torah Articles: Sefer Shemot: Parashat Mishpatim: Widows & Orphans

Contributed by: R. Ezra E. Miztahi

The read in this week's parashat Mishpatim:

"Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless."

The Torah takes the claims of a widow or an orphan more intensely than any other citizen of our Jewish nation, mainly because they have no one to fight for them. A widow is left without a husband, the man that cared for needs. An orphan is left without a parent, or without both parents, either way he or she is missing those people who cared for them most.

Hashem hears their cry.

The verse tells us that those who take advantage of a widow or orphan will lose their life. Moreover, we read that a specific method is prescribed for their death – killing by sword. The verse then tells us that this individual's wife will be left a widow and his children will be left as orphans.

Why does the verse need to add this line? Of course, we can understand that when an individual is killed his wife becomes a widow and his children orphans. What do we learn form these seemingly superfluous words?

Rashi explains one way to interpret the verse. See his peroush for more. However, the Meshech Hochma bases his interpretation from the fact the Torah states a specific type of punishment, i.e. "kill you with the sword."

First, some background. As you know, there are four forms of capital punishment that the Bet Din uses. However, a king can only use one form of punishment for those who rebel against the kingdom- the punishment of the sword (i.e. beheading). The curse in the pasuq here, the Meshech Hochma explains, is that Hashem will punish the individual by having him killed by a king.

And there is a reason.

The Yerushalmi teaches us that those who have sinned and were killed by Bet Din, have all their belongings go to their family. However, one who is killed by the king, loses their entire estate, as the king has the right to take everything. The rebel against the kingdom is killed, while his family loses everything.

Those who torture and take advantage of the widow and orphan, do not only lose their lives, but will also leave their wife and children penniless. May we follow the words of the parasha, and not be like those who may take advantage of our society's weak members, but rather rally around those who are left alone, and help them in all the need.
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