by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"Any widow or orphan, you shall not afflict. For if you indeed afflict him
[or her], only to Me will he surely cry, and I will surely hear his cry."
In the original language of the Torah, the second of these verses contains
three verbs, each of which is emphasized via a "doubled expression." "Aneh
S'aneh" -- indeed you afflict; "Tza'ok Yitzak" -- he will surely cry; and
"Shamo'a Eshma" -- I will surely hear. These "doubled expressions" are
rare, and we do not find another verse in the Torah where there are several
verbs, every one of which is emphasized in this way.
What is the lesson of these "doubled expressions?" What is the Torah trying
to teach us?
Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, the Kotzker Rebbe, says that the Torah's
message is that the pain of a widow or orphan is not the same as the pain
of another person. If "Reuven" does something bad to the average person, be
it physical damage or monetary loss, "Shimon" feels only the pain of the
thing that Reuven did. Whether Shimon feels physical pain, embarrassment, or
financial loss, that is all he suffers.
This is not true, however, in the case of a widow or orphan. It is
completely natural for such a person to respond to an injury or financial
loss by remembering and feeling again the painful loss of spouse or parent.
The orphan's heart cries inside him, and says: "if my father were alive,
'Reuven' would not have dared to hurt me like that." A widow says the same
of her husband.
This is why the Torah uses the doubled expression of "Aneh S'aneh" -- if
indeed you afflict -- for the affliction itself is doubled. Thus the cry of
the orphan is doubled -- "Tza'ok Yitzak." And because of this, HaShem
warns: "Shamo'a Eshma" -- I will surely hear; I will listen "twice."
The Torah is not speaking to the sort of creature who would, Heaven forbid,
deliberately take advantage of a widow or orphan. The Torah was not written
for evil people. It is speaking to ordinary, good people, who might not
think about the special circumstances of others.
The Torah is warning us that we need to take the situations of others into
account. We must empathize with others, and keep their circumstances in
mind. If a person is poor, it is that much more important that we pay him
promptly. If a person is an orphan, it is that much more important to avoid
slighting him, even accidentally. If a person is emotionally fragile, it is
that much more important to avoid anything which might bring him or her to
And when we do look out for the circumstances of others, and we take
special care to address their needs -- our Sages teach that the positive
effect of good is always greater than the negative effect of evil. Imagine,
then, the good which we can do!
Rabbi Yaakov Menken