Justice for the
Weak and Vulnerable
by Deanna Chart
Deanna Chart in loving memory of her dear parents, Cissy and Ellis Levine and her special brother, Ian (zl)
1. Freedom from oppression
The prohibitions against oppression and vexation are directed against hindering and harassing a person in his legitimate pursuits. They are also directed against all forms of discrimination and persecution. The liberal ideas which dominate western societies have their roots in these commandments of the Torah. For, I quote from Exodus, “you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Vexation and harassment cry out to high heaven when they are perpetrated against the hapless and defenceless – the stranger, the widow and the orphan. And not only these – all the underprivileged of society, the poor, every dependent person, everyone who is unhappy or suffering, they are all under the special protection of the Almighty, Who entrusts them to our care.
On a topical note, psychological harm would also come into this category, especially during lockdown – mostly committed by men; and the damage to mental health which arises from, for example, refusing to allow a spouse or partner to leave the house or one of them being solely in charge of all the finances to the detriment of the other.
2. Taking advantage of weakness
Besides the literal meaning, “the blind” in the verse from Leviticus, “You should not put an obstacle before the blind” includes, according to our Sages, someone who is ignorant on certain matters and comes to you for advice, leaving completely out of account your own interests in the matter.
It also includes the morally blind. You may not help anyone commit a sin, whether he is intent on doing it out of ignorance, moral weakness or malice. If you cannot change his mind for the better, you may on no account facilitate his act in any way. Do not provide him with an opportunity to commit the sin. Even if he could obtain the means elsewhere, do not be the one to provide it. Do not say, “It’s not my fault; he doesn’t have to do it.” It is your sin, because you gave him the opportunity.
3. Watch your words
But do not imagine that you can sin only by deeds, that you can satisfy the law if you merely refrain from afflicting and oppressing your neighbour by your physical actions. The barbed comment, the fleeting word, with which you can do so much good, can inflict injury and destroy happiness just as surely as can such physical acts.
I quote from Leviticus: “You shall not hurt one another, but you shall hold your G-d in awe; I G-d am your G-d”. According to the Talmud, this refers to hurting by words.
G-d has endowed the human being with a sensitive soul, capable of the most sublime emotions, for example, gratitude, serenity and love. By the same token the sensitive soul can easily be wounded by a malicious, scornful, or thoughtless word.
So what lesson can we learn from this? We should think twice before we speak; and may we all benefit from kind and thoughtful speech.
Adapted from a publication authored by Aryeh Carmell (zl)