21 - Hurtful Speech part 3

Although we have to be careful not to hurt any Jew, there are certain categories of people who are especially sensitive, and toward them the torah applies an additional prohibition of ona"a.

We are stretching in ahavas yisrael together to create z’chusim for K’lal Yisrael in these urgent times.


Last week’s stretch of the week was: When speaking with a family member or friend who is extra sensitive, be conscious to speak in a soft and gentle tone.

Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.

Taking A Deeper Look - Lesson #21


 PART 3 – Geirim, Widows and Orphans


Although we have to be careful not to hurt any Jew, there are certain categories of people who are especially sensitive, and toward them the torah applies an additional prohibition of ona’a.

The ger, a convert to Judaism, is often alone, without any family, and in a new, strange, challenging situation. He is unaware of established customs and easily taken advantage of. The Torah advises us to be especially careful not to hurt geirim with words, nor to oppress or distress them personally or their property: “Do not hurt or oppress the ger” (Shemos 22:20). The gemara asserts that ona’a (distreesing) of a ger constitutes a violation of three mitzvos lo sa’aseh, and oppressing him violates an additional three. The Torah reminds us in no less than thirty-six places not to mistreat a ger.

Another highly vulnerable category of people is that of widows and orphans. The Torah says, “Do not afflict the widow and the orphan” (Shemos 22:21). Even if they are not financially strapped, the widow and orphans can feel depressed and helpless, and are likely at a loss to demand their rights. When talking to widows and orphans, we should be careful to speak gently and respectfully. Anyone who teases them, angers them, causes them pain, takes advantage of them or causes them financial loss violates this prohibition. The punishment is frightening indeed: “I shall become angry and kill you by the sword, and your wives will become widows and your children, orphans” (Shemos 22:23).

The prohibition is only violated if the oppressor is doing so for his own benefit. In certain cases, however, a teacher must be harsh with a student who is an orphan in order to teach him Torah or a profession, or to correct his conduct. In such a case, the teacher’s actions would be permitted. Still, he should not treat him on par with other children, but rather should favor him and treat him with extra compassion and respect.

These precautions in ona’a apply to a child who has lost either his father or his mother. The orphan retains his status until he is old enough to look after his own affairs like any other adult. A widow is defined as any woman-young or old-who has lost her husband, as long as she has not remarried.

(Excerpted from The Code of Jewish Conduct by Rabbi Yitzchok Silver.)

Story:  (based on a true story) 

“Shulamis! You were so good!”

“You too! Oh my gosh, it’s over! The play is actually over!”

Listening to my teenage daughter with her friends and co-actresses, I agreed: it was over. They had done a wonderful job, and I was proud of them, but I would not miss all the late nights and extra driving from place to place.

“Shulamis! So amazing!”

Chava came barreling across the room in full maid’s costume, her apron flapping as she ran. She slammed straight into the already bouncing circle of sixteen-year-old girls that contained my daughter. “You were all great!” I managed to interject when the squeals died down a little.

The girls peeled off one by one, with Chava remaining. I had never met Chava before the play, but she was in Shulamis’s scene, and as time went on she began showing up at our house after school a couple days a week. She seemed like a nice enough girl, though I didn’t see her much; mostly she and Shulamis giggled behind her bedroom door. I did find out that her mother had passed away when she was six, though I couldn’t tell by looking at her.

“Honey,” I said, “sorry to break this up, but I need to go find Grandma and your little sisters and get going so they can all get to bed. Then I’ll pick you up and we’ll go get our slurpees.”

“Cool. Chava can come, right? Her aunt couldn’t make it.”

I had no answer. Instead I turned my head away, just a bit. Of course Chava should come; she didn’t have a mother to take her out, or to take her home. I’d been wondering if I should say anything to her after the play, like, “your mother would have been proud” but I didn’t know her, so that would have been weird. Plus, even if I did know her, I find it hard to figure out when is the right time to say something and when isn’t. So I’ve never said anything, or stepped out to do anything, because I never knew what I should do. Which is the right thing to do? Who knows? I did know that something tugged at me as I had watched her flawlessly parry off several women who approached her tonight saying, “Wonderful job! Is your mother here?” with a simple, “No, but my little sister just left.”

But with all of my sympathy for Chava, and my desire to be there for her, I didn’t want her with me for those slurpees.

It was stupid, really. Here was a tailor-made opportunity to help this girl who had a void in her life. It was being handed to me--this was what she needed. But I had been dreaming about those slurpees for too long. When Shulamis finished her first play in middle school, I took her out to try to find something to do or to eat after her after-party because she was too wired to sleep. It became tradition, just the two of us, every year after the school play we would hang out for an hour or two and just talk about stuff, laugh together, whatever.

It was “us” time, and I didn’t want to give it up. But here was Chava, and she had no mother to hang out with.

I looked up and saw that I had been thinking for too long. Chava’s face was no longer shining with that after-play glow. Her eyes looked down, and she turned slightly to Shulamis and said, “No, I’m good. My dad will want to hear all about everything-I’ll just go home.”

Shulamis was looking at me, through me. ‘Tell her you really want her to come!’, I could almost hear her telegraphing to me. ‘Tell her!’

I didn’t want to. I wanted my time-it was so rare. But I knew it was the right thing to do, and I really knew that we’d all be better for it. So I spoke up, told her that yes, we’d love for her to come and join us.

It was too late, though. Chava knew. Thankfully, she convinced Shulamis that she really did want to go home and show her father the video of her lines. So I left the girls without giving Chava the hug I wanted to give her, wishing I’d gotten her a balloon like I had for my Shulamis. I took my kids and my mother home, and went back for my daughter, and we had our slurpees and talked about life. But something was missing.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” Shulamis said to me at one point, thinking of Chava, and I thought of her too. She should have been there. Or I should have reacted better, explained better, planned something else for the three of us. I didn’t mean to hurt Chava, but small actions or inactions can hurt someone. Especially someone who’s missing someone.

Discussion Question Options: 

Does a person need to want to hurt a ger, yasom, or almanah in order to violate this prohibition?

How can we be sensitive enough to the needs of almanos and yesomim without falling into the trap of being patronizing or making them feel like nebachs?

What can the way we must treat geirim, yesomim and almanos teach us about how to treat others in general?

Stretch of the Week: 

Make a “Hello” call to someone you know who may need a little extra support, being careful not to say something that might hurt them.


Stretch Of The Week