What Will Happen the Day After the War?

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by R. Eliezer Simcha Weisz

There is a debate about what will happen the day after the war and there is an argument over whether we should be planning for the aftermath of the war during the time of war. We must be aware that for hundreds of people who have been killed, it is already the day after, as it is for their surviving women and children. For them, the war has already changed their status to being orphans and widows. They do not need to discuss hypothetical questions about the day after; the war has already had its irreversible impact.

It is about them that the Torah speaks in this week’s parsha, Mishpatim. The Torah teaches us to be especially sensitive to those suffering misfortune. As the verse in Shemos states, “כל אלמנה ויתום לא תענון, You shall not cause pain to any widow or orphan” (22:21).

Rashi, quoting the Mechilta, states that while this commandment applies to all people, the Torah speaks specifically about widows and orphans as their grief makes them especially vulnerable to emotional exploitation and pain.

כל אלמנה ויתום לא תענון. הוּא הַדִּין לְכָל אָדָם, אֶלָּא שֶׁדִּבֵּר הַכָּתוּב בַּהוֹוֶה, לְפִי שֶׁהֵם תְּשׁוּשֵׁי כֹחַ וְדָבָר מָצוּי לְעַנּוֹתָם (מכילתא)

Rashi does not quote the whole text of the Mechilta, which stresses that what is important is not whether we feel that we are causing pain to the other – the test is not a subjective one. It is a test of how the other person feels. Often, we cannot fathom or understand the sensitivity of the widow or orphan. And we must realize this. This may happen today when we even speak of “the day after” in the presence of those who are experiencing an unchangeable “day after.”

The Mechilta tells us that R. Yishmael and R. Shimon are about to be executed. R. Shimon expresses confusion about the reason for his impending execution. R. Yishmael provides an explanation by asking R. Shimon whether he had ever made someone wait for a judgment while he finished a drink or completed some other personal task. R. Yishmael points out that the emphasis of the verse is on not afflicting others, regardless of the severity of the mistreatment.

R. Shimon acknowledges the explanation given by R. Yishmael and adds that he now understands the reason for his impending execution.

מכילתא דרבי ישמעאל, מַסֶּכְתָּא דִנְזִיקִין י״ח:י״א-ט״ו

(שמות כב,כב) [“אִם עַנֵּה תְעַנֶּה אֹתוֹ, כִּי אִם צָעֹק יִצְעַק אֵלַי, שָׁמֹעַ אֶשְׁמַע צַעֲקָתוֹ.”] אִם עַנֵּה תְעַנֶּה אֹתוֹ, אֶחָד עִנּוּי מְרֻבֶּה וְאֶחָד עִנּוּי מוּעָט

כְּבַר הָיָה רַבִּי יִשְׁמָעֵאל וְרַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן יוֹצְאִין לֵהָרֵג. אָמַר לוֹ רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן לְרַבִּי יִשְׁמָעֵאל: רַבִּי! לִבִּי יוֹצֵא, שֶׁאֵינִי יוֹדֵעַ עַל מָה אֲנִי נֶהֱרָג. אָמַר לוֹ רַבִּי יִשְׁמָעֵאל: מִיָּמֶיךָ לֹא בָא אָדָם אֶצְלָךְ, לָדִין אוֹ לִשְׁאֵלָה, וְשִׁהִתּוֹ עַד שֶׁתְּהֵי גּוֹמֵא כּוֹסָךְ, עַד שֶׁתְּהֵי נוֹעֵל סַנְדָּלָךְ, אוֹ עַד שֶׁתְּהֵי עוֹטֵף טַלֵּיתָךְ?

 וְאָמְרָה הַתּוֹרָה “אִם עַנֵּה תְעַנֶּה אֹתוֹ”, אֶחָד עִנּוּי מְרֻבֶּה וְאֶחָד עִנּוּי מוּעָט? 

וּבַדָּבָר הַזֶּה אָמַר לוֹ: נִחַמְתָּנִי רַבִּי!

“If afflict you afflict him” (Shemos 22:22): whether greater or lesser affliction. One should not mistreat widows or fatherless children in any way, whether severe or minor.

R. Yishmael and R. Shimon were going out to be executed when R. Shimon said to R. Yishmael: Rebbi, my heart is faint, for I do not know why I am going to be killed. R. Yishmael: Did anyone ever come to you for judgment or ruling, and you kept him waiting until you had finished your cup or taken your sandal or donned your garment? Scripture states, “If afflict you afflict” — whether greater or lesser affliction.

R. Shimon: “You have consoled me, Rebbi.”

The Gemara in Shabbat 55a illustrates this lesson. According to the text, Rav Yehudah was sitting in front of his Rebbi, Shmuel, when a certain woman entered and cried before Shmuel, who, in turn, ignored her. Rabbi Yehuda then confronted his Rebbi, stating, “Does not the Master agree that ‘whoever stops his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry, but shall not be heard?’” (Mishlei 21:13) Shmuel responded, “Shinena (sharp one, meaning R. Yehudah), your superior (Shemuel) (will be punished) with cold water, but your superior’s superior (will be punished) with hot. Mar Ukva, the head of the Court (Av Beth Din), is sitting!” In other words, Shmuel conveyed that he lacked the authority to adjudicate in this matter as Mar Ukva was in charge.

רַב יְהוּדָה הֲוָה יָתֵיב קַמֵּיהּ דִּשְׁמוּאֵל. אֲתַאי הַהִיא אִיתְּתָא קָא צָוְוחָה קַמֵּיהּ, וְלָא הֲוָה מַשְׁגַּח בַּהּ. אֲמַר לֵיהּ: לָא סָבַר לֵיהּ מָר: ״אוֹטֵם אׇזְנוֹ מִזַּעֲקַת דָּל גַּם הוּא יִקְרָא וְלֹא יֵעָנֶה״? אֲמַר לֵיהּ: שִׁינָּנָא, רֵישָׁךְ בְּקָרִירֵי, רֵישָׁא דְרֵישָׁיךְ בְּחַמִּימֵי. הָא יָתֵיב מָר עוּקְבָא אַב בֵּית דִּין.

The Gemara relates: Rav Yehuda was sitting before Shmuel when this woman came and cried before Shmuel about an injustice that had been committed against her, and Shmuel paid no attention to her. Rav Yehuda said to Shmuel: Doesn’t the Master hold in accordance with the verse: “Whoever stops his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard” (Proverbs 21:13)? He said to him: Big-toothed one, your superior, i.e., I, your teacher, will be punished in cold water. The superior of your superior will be punished in hot water. Mar Ukva, who sits as president of the court, is responsible for those matters. (Shabbos 55a)

The Gemara in Shabbos does not indicate whether Rabbi Yehuda was correct in suggesting to his Rebbi that he should have paid more attention to the woman or if Shmuel’s response was appropriate. However, a Gemara in Bava Basra (10b), according to Tosfos, provides additional insight into this incident.

The Gemara in Bava Basra relates that Rav Yosef, the son of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, underwent a near-death experience, ascended to Heaven, and returned. When asked about his observations in Heaven, he replied, “I saw an upside-down world. The ones who hold high positions in this world are lowered in the True World, and those who are subservient here sit in more prestigious places in Heaven.” Tosefos, drawing on a tradition from the Geonim as relayed by Rabbeinu Chananel, further expounds that when Rav Yosef journeyed to Heaven, he witnessed Shmuel assuming a subservient role to Rav Yehudah, his student. This reversal occurred due to Rav Yehuda’s accurate criticism of his Rebbi Shmuel in the aforementioned  incident. In the True World, Shmuel and Rabbi Yehudah exchanged positions — Shmuel became the disciple, and Rabbi Yehudah became the teacher.

כִּי הָא דְּיוֹסֵף בְּרֵיהּ דְּרַבִּ יְהוֹשֻׁעַ חֲלַשׁ אִינְּגִיד אֲמַר לֵיהּ אֲבוּהּ מַאי חָזֵית אֲמַר לֵיהּ עוֹלָם הָפוּךְ רָאִיתִי עֶלְיוֹנִים לְמַטָּה וְתַחְתּוֹנִים לְמַעְלָה אֲמַר לֵיהּ עוֹלָם בָּרוּר רָאִיתָ  (בבא בתרא י׳ ב)

This is like the incident involving Yosef, son of Rabbi Yehoshua, who became ill and fainted. When he returned to good health, his father said to him: What did you see when you were not conscious? Yosef said to him: I saw an inverted world. Those above, i.e., those who are considered important in this world, were below, insignificant, while those below, i.e., those who are insignificant in this world, were above. Rabbi Yehoshua said to him: You have seen a clear world. (Bava Basra 10b)

Reflecting on the situation, it is quite remarkable to think that a single lesson from Rav Yehuda could overshadow the wealth of Torah knowledge imparted by Shmuel over a lifetime. Shmuel, as Rabbi Yehudah’s primary teacher, dedicated years to transmitting his Torah wisdom. The question arises: why was the significance of this extensive dedication to Torah teaching diminished, and why was Shmuel suddenly positioned in a subservient role to his student? The answer lies in the profound impact of the specific lesson Rav Yehudah conveyed to Shmuel — the importance of showing consideration to the woman who entered his Court in distress. This lesson held such paramount importance that it surpassed all the Torah teachings that Shmuel had diligently shared with Rabbi Yehudah throughout their extended period of study and mentorship. This specific teaching held such profound significance that it not only overshadowed but also transcended all the Torah knowledge Shmuel had diligently imparted to Rabbi Yehuda throughout their years of studying and mentoring.

This critical lesson of ‘whoever stops his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry, but shall not be heard’ — of how we must view an aggrieved party —in the True World, was more vital than all the Torah that Shmuel ever taught Rav Yehudah.

The Gemara continues: (Yosef, son of Rabbi Yehoshua), also heard in Heaven:

.וְשָׁמַעְתִּי שֶׁהָיוּ אוֹמְרִים: הֲרוּגֵי מַלְכוּת – אֵין כׇּל בְּרִיָּה יְכוֹלָה לַעֲמוֹד בִּמְחִיצָתָן

And I also heard that they were saying: Those Harugei Malchus enjoy such exalted status that no one can stand in their presence.

Yosef, son of Rabbi Yehoshua also heard that the place in Heaven of victims killed by enemies of Israel (foreign rulers) was higher than any other. This term Harugei Malchus refers to Jewish individuals who were killed by enemies of Israel. It includes casualties of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and victims of enemy actions. According to the understanding of the Rambam (Maimonides), this elevated status is granted irrespective of their level of observance of the commandments during their lifetime.

The Parsha of Mishpatim comes at an opportune time to remind us of how careful we must be with widows, orphans, and people who are hurting, especially those mourning their beloved ones who are Harugei Malchus and gave their lives for Am Yisrael. Sometimes, there is nothing we can actually do. We cannot bring back the husband or the father. We cannot write a check for all that they need. We cannot even help alleviate the immediate pain. There is one thing, however, that we can all do — we can listen. We can always listen. Whether one is rich or poor, a Rabbi or a Baal Habayit, wise or not so wise, powerful or not so powerful, everyone can listen, pay attention, and show that at least they care.

This lesson is particularly crucial when there are many war widows and aggrieved people, those who have lost family members in times of conflict, and who are especially prone to further grief. We have a minimal yet profound obligation to listen and acknowledge their distress. At the very least, we can and must validate their tears.

About Eliezer Simcha Weisz

Rabbi Eliezer Simcha Weisz is a member of The Chief Rabbinate Council of Israel

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