Mishpatim: Oppressing The Weak: Mitzvah 65 – Concept 18
“You shall not cause pain to any widow or orphan. If you dare to cause him pain – for if he shall cry out to Me, I shall surely hear his outcry. My wrath shall blaze and I shall kill you by the sword, and your wives will be widows and your children orphans.” (Exodus 22:21-23) (We may not oppress the weak. (Rambam, Hilchot Dei’ot – The Laws of Character)
Hilchot Dei’ot, Chapter 6:
10) One is obligated to be careful regarding orphans and widows, for their spirits are very low indeed, even though they may be very rich.
Even regarding the widow and orphans of a king one has to be careful, for it is written, “You shall not distress any widow or orphan”.
So how does one associate with them? One should speak to them in soft tones only, treat them with respect, not cause them any physical pain by way of work or mental anguish by way of harsh words, and one should be more careful with their money than one is with one’s own.
Anyone who teases them, or causes them to be angry, or causes them mental anguish, or tyrannizes them, or wastes their money, is transgressing a negative commandment – how much more so one who strikes or curses them is.
Even though committing this sin does not make one liable to flogging, the Torah mentions its punishment: “And My anger shall be inflamed, and I will kill you with the sword; then your wives shall be widows and your children orphans”.
The Creator made a covenant with them, stating that whenever they cry because they were insulted they will be answered, as it is written, “…and they cry to Me, I shall surely hear their cry”.
This is talking about when one hurts them for one’s own reasons, but is permitted for a Rabbi or Master to hurt them in order to teach them Torah or a trade, or to make them follow the straight path – even so, one should not make them accustomed to the ways of all men, but one should treat them differently and with great repose, mercy and respect, for it is written, “For their redeemer is mighty; He shall plead their cause with you” – one is fatherless and the other is motherless.
Orphans are referred to as orphans in connection with this matter until they have reached the age when they no longer need an adult to support, assist and teach a trade to them, and they can do all they need to do on their own, like other adults.