In parashas mishpatim (22:21-23) the pesukim read

כא כָּל-אַלְמָנָה וְיָתוֹם, לֹא תְעַנּוּן. כב אִם-עַנֵּה תְעַנֶּה אֹתוֹ--כִּי אִם-צָעֹק יִצְעַק אֵלַי, שָׁמֹעַ אֶשְׁמַע צַעֲקָתוֹ. כג וְחָרָה אַפִּי, וְהָרַגְתִּי אֶתְכֶם בֶּחָרֶב; וְהָיוּ נְשֵׁיכֶם אַלְמָנוֹת, וּבְנֵיכֶם יְתֹמִים

Don't oppress any widow or orphan. If you will oppress him/her [you'll get yours- Rashi] for if they scream out to me, I will hear his/her scream. And my anger will flare and I will kill you with the sword and your wives will be widows and your children orphans.

Various tanaic sources, also brought by Rashi, darshan the redundancy: If Hashem kills him, of course his wife will be a widow and his children orphans! Rather, this is a separate punishment that there will be no witness to the husband's death and the wives will always have a widow status and will be unable to marry and the children will be unable to inherit their father.

My question is- what did the wife/children do to deserve such a harsh punishment for themselves. By a regular Heavenly death (without the drasha), we can debate whether there needs to be cause for "collateral damage", but this is a specific action against the family members.


I see where Sforno writes:

וְיִהְיֶה הָענֶשׁ מִדָּה כְּנֶגֶד מִדָּה, שֶׁמִּי שֶׁעִנָּה אֶת הָאַלְמָנָה וְיָתוֹם בִּרְצוֹנוֹ יְסַבֵּב עַל כָּרְחוֹ עִנּוּי אִשְׁתּוֹ וּבָנָיו

"The punishment is measure-for-measure: one who willfully oppresses the widow and the orphan, causes - against his will - that his own wife and children will be oppressed."

So it sounds like he's saying that indeed the punishment is targeted to the offender: his soul, after death, is still aware of what's happening with his family, and it suffers because of the troubles that they are undergoing, the more so since he knows that these are his fault.

Supposing, though, that the survivors did nothing wrong - indeed, perhaps they even tried to prevent their husband and father from acting callously - then their suffering conceivably could indeed be יסורין של אהבה, the type of trials which deepen one's connection to G-d (see Berachos 5a-b).

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  • Yesurin shel ahava is in itself a controversial subject. According to Ramban, it just means atonement for sins. So hadra kushya l'duchta- why is such a harsh punishment, singled out for an oppressor, given to the family. According to Rashi, the family looks at it as a way of becoming closer to Hashem. That's a zechus, so why would we expect the oppressor and the family to view the yesurin differently. (Don't oppress anyone or else your family's going to be closer to God!?) – YDK Jan 31 '11 at 5:03
  • No, of course not. As the Gemara points out there, most yisurin are indeed attributable to some personal misdeed, or to failure to study Torah; only when neither of those applies - and, as the Gemara goes on to note, the yisurim don't interfere with one's Torah study or prayer - can they be classified as יסורין של אהבה. So in the majority of cases, it would seem, what the person's wife and children experience is not just "collateral damage" from their husband and father's actions, but something targeted to their own failings too. I was just saying that there may be cases where it's not so. – Alex Jan 31 '11 at 15:12
  • So, if I understand you correctly, the wife and children have issues of their own which would make them liable for such a punishment. Generally, Hashem doesn't inflict punishment immediately and waits for teshuva. In the case of the oppressor, Hashem gives him his punishments which will affect din on his family members immediately instead of at some future point. (And if they are not deserving, it is not a contradiction to justice considering yesurin shel ahava). Did I get that right? – YDK Feb 1 '11 at 3:25
  • I think that about sums it up, yes. The only other thing I'd add is that either way (even if, for the family members themselves, these are יסורין של אהבה), the offender himself still has the mental anguish of knowing that he triggered it - and that would be the "middah keneged middah" aspect that Sforno is talking about. – Alex Feb 1 '11 at 5:09

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