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Bava Metzia 70

Our Gemara on amud aleph uses an interesting idiom to refer to “older” orphans, “Diknanei,” meaning they have beards. Rashi adds, “They are no longer considered orphans.” What does Rashi mean by this? A beard does not add or detract from the status of an orphan!


To understand this, we need to appreciate the special status that orphans occupy in halacha and Jewish ethics. There are specific prohibitions and damnations that befall one who mistreats an orphan. The verse (Shemos 22:21-23) states:

You shall not ill-treat any widow or orphan.

If you do mistreat them, I will heed their outcry as soon as they cry out to Me and My anger shall blaze forth and I will put you to the sword, and your own wives shall become widows and your children orphans.

Rambam (Deos 6:10) elaborates:

A person is obligated to show great care for orphans and widows because their spirits are very low and their feelings are depressed. This applies even if they are wealthy. We are commanded to [show this attention] even to a king’s widow and his orphans as [implied by Exodus 22:21]: “Do not mistreat any widow or orphan.”

How should one deal with them? One should only speak to them gently and treat them only with honor. One should not cause pain to their persons with [overbearing] work or aggravate their feelings with harsh words and [one should] show more consideration for their financial interests than for one’s own. Anyone who vexes or angers them, hurts their feelings, oppresses them, or causes them financial loss transgresses this prohibition. Surely this applies if one beats them or curses them…There is a covenant between them and He who spoke and created the world that whenever they cry out because they have been wronged, they will be answered as [ibid.:22] states: “When they cry out to Me, I will surely hear their cry.”

There is an exception to this rule, when done with great care and sincerity (ibid):

When does the above apply? When one causes them suffering for one’s own purposes. However, it is permitted for a teacher to cause them suffering while teaching them Torah, or a craft, or in order to train them in proper behavior. Nevertheless, he should not treat them in the same manner as he treats others, but rather make a distinction with regard to them and treat them with gentility, great mercy, and honor for [Proverbs 22:22] states: “For G-d will take up their cause.”

What is the definition of an orphan? Rambam (ibid) clarifies:

This applies to both those orphaned from their father and those orphaned from their mother. Until when are they considered orphans in the context [of this mitzvah]? Until they no longer need a mature individual to support, instruct, and care for them and are able to see to all their own needs by themselves, like other adults.

Therefore, we see that Rashi’s point about being old enough to have a beard roughly corresponds with the age of self-sufficiency in the economic realities of the Talmudic era.

One question remains. If self-sufficiency is the criterion, why then does the earlier halacha rule as follows:

“This applies even if they are wealthy. We are commanded to [show this attention] even to a king’s widow and his orphans.”

The answer to this shows how the Torah often considers subjective emotional states as worthy of consideration. The wealthy orphan, though in no financial straits, feels poor and helpless, and that is enough. This is why the Rambam prefaces this ruling with the following observation (ibid); “A person is obligated to show great care for orphans and widows because their spirits are very low and their feelings are depressed.” Another area in halacha where the subjective emotions are primary is the obligations of tzedakah, which extend to restoring a wealthy person back to his standard of living: “This includes even a horse upon which to ride and a servant to run in front of him” (Kesuvos 67b).

We do not say, “It is all in your head, grow up.” The issue is their feelings, not the facts.


The Woke Bystander Effect

Bava Metzia 71

Our Gemara on amud aleph quotes a verse from Chabakuk (1:13):

You whose eyes are too pure to look upon evil, who cannot countenance wrongdoing. Why do you countenance treachery, and stand by idle while the one in the wrong devours the one in the right?

The prophet is identifying two problematic patterns in human behavior, and suggests that they are related: People tend to act with false righteousness and self-serving piety, too pure to even look at evil, and then are silent and complicit in the face of real evil. Numerous studies show that bullying and totalitarianism occur less because of the occasional sociopath, and more due to the large majority who are too afraid to speak up.

Notably, in observing Shaul’s inconsistent mercy on Amalek but rageful genocide of the City of Nob, Midrash Tehillim (7:20) warns:

Whoever has mercy on the cruel will ultimately be cruel to the merciful.

Ibn Ezra (Shemos 22:20) goes as far as to say, that being silent while an orphan or widow is being mistreated, begets similar wrath and curses as if you were the perpetrator:

After saying lo se’annun (ye shall not afflict) (v. 21) which is in the plural, Scripture says im se’anneh (if thou afflict) (v. 22) because whoever sees a person afflicting the orphan and the widow and does not aid them, is also considered a person who is afflicting the pain.

Blaise Pascal, famously wrote about the “G-d-Sized Hole” that, if not filled with religion, will be filled with emptiness, and Chazal would add, evil:

“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words, by G-d himself” (Blaise Pascal, Pensées VII, 425).

To the misguided humans who are concerned about the Gazans, spend fortunes of money and time worrying about some obscure Amazonian rain forest creature that might become extinct, and dutifully compost, (which is G-dly nonetheless, when in proportion), please pay heed. The approximate genocide of one million abortions in America per year, the murder, rape and sexual torture committed by Hamas on Israelis, or the persecution committed against women in many Islamic countries seem to escape your protestations and outrage. Please, instead of being woke, wake up, or those monsters will be blowing up cafes right at your doorstep! And then, that will be a real humanitarian crisis, because you won’t be able to get your sustainably sourced lattes and kale sandwich at Starbucks.


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