Rabbi Krakowski On Parshas Mishpatim


krakowskiBy Rabbi D. Krakowski

This week’s Sedra is extremely technical, dealing with all sorts of legal particulars and aspects of judgment for various types of damage. However, the Torah injects into the Sedra some Halachos that pertain to causing pain and anguish to widows and orphans. Chazal explain (Medrash Mechilta) that this transgression of causing pain to widows and orphans extends to all other people as well, but the Torah specifies such people because they are more likely to feel pain and anguish, as they are more sensitive. There is an obvious question here: isn’t it clear that they are more sensitive? Had the Torah told us not to inflict abuse (verbal or any other non-physical abuse) upon others, we would have included widows and orphans in that category. We would have also intuitively realized that such people are more likely to be emotionally hurt as they are much more emotionally vulnerable. Thus, why doesn’t the Torah simply tell us not to inflict emotional abuse (without having to specify any category of individuals)?

There is yet another oddity with this transgression. The Torah explains that if someone emotionally abuses widows or orphans, causing them to cry out to Hashem – Hashem will severely punish the transgressor. Chazal explain that there is certainly a punishment for someone who inflicts pain on someone even if he/she does not cry out to Hashem – but when someone does cry out, Hashem hastens the punishment of the aggressor.

Perhaps if we analyze the Mechilta a bit better we will at least understand why a widow and orphans are used as an example. The Medrash says that since widows and orphans are more sensitive, it is more likely that they will end up being the victims of an emotional insult. There are many comments that may essentially be deemed appropriate, and in most situations, would not be considered offensive. However, to an incredibly sensitive person, the same phrases may be very hurtful. In such situations, by saying such a comment to a sensitive person, we have sinned greatly. Thus, we see from here the tremendous importance that the Torah places on human emotions.

This point is echoed by the fact that the Torahs tells us that if the victim cries out, the punishment will be hastened. As the crime is dependent on the hurt felt and not on the actual act per say, it then makes sense that if the hurt and anguish are so great that it causes the individual to cry out, then certainly it should warrant that the punishment be hastened.

While many laws have exact halachic parameters, human compassion and emotion don’t. If the Torah would simply tell us that we should not abuse people emotionally, we would think that it depends on whether a comment is generally considered non-offensive. However, because the Torah specifies these sensitive people, it implies that every individual’s emotions must be taken into account in every specific situation, and we must be accordingly cautious.

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