75. Widows and Orphans
If a person was wronged by his fellow and he would rather not rebuke him, or even mention the matter, because the offender is a very simple person or is not in his right mind, this is a pious thing to do. It does require, however, that the injured party completely forgive the offender without any feelings of resentment. The Torah’s law is concerned only with us bearing hatred towards one another. (If there’s no hatred, there’s no problem.)
We are required to give extra care to orphans and widows because their spirits are very low. This is true even if they are people of financial means. This mitzvah applies even to a king’s widow and orphans as per Exodus 22:21, “Do not mistreat any widow or orphan.”
Here’s how to treat orphans and widows: We must speak to them gently and treat them with honor. We may not cause them pain with work or hurt their feelings with sharp words. We must show more concern for their finances than for our own. Any person who angers them, hurts their feelings, oppresses them, or causes them a financial loss violates this prohibition. This is all the more so if one should happen to strike them or curse them.
A person who violates this mitzvah is not liable for the penalty of lashes but the punishment for violating it is explicit in the Torah: Exodus 22:23 says, “I will reveal My anger and slay you with the sword.” There is a covenant that widows and orphans have with God: whenever they cry out from being wronged, God will answer them as per Exodus 22:22, “When they cry out to Me, I will surely hear their cry.”
All of this applies when a person causes them pain for his own reasons. However, a teacher may cause them suffering while teaching them Torah or a trade or in order to instruct them in the proper way. Nevertheless, the teacher should not treat them the same way he does every other student; he should still treat them more gently, with extra mercy and honor, “Because God will take up their cause” (Exodus 22:22).
These laws apply whether a child has lost a father or a mother. They considered orphans for the purposes of this mitzvah until they no longer require an adult to take care for them and they can handle their own affairs like other adults.