Each week we discuss one familiar halakhic practice and try to show its beauty and meaning. The columns are based on Rabbi Meir's Meaning in Mitzvot on Kitzur Shulchan Arukh
CONSIDERATION TOWARDS WIDOWS
In many places, the Torah commands us to show special consideration towards widows. For example:
 In a number of places the Torah
admonishes us to include them among the needy whom we are obliged to help
with charity, tithes etc. Devarim 14:29, 16:11, 16:14, 24:19-21; 26:12-13.
It is worth examining the unique nature
of each class of admonition.
The commandment regarding anguish relates equally to any widow, whether rich or poor. Here special consideration for the widow is called for because of the likelihood of emotional vulnerability. The memory of loss together with the ongoing experience of going it alone mean that the widow is likely to be more in need of support and encouragement than others.
Between these two extremes of economic and emotional interaction, there is an intermediate kind which we have often discussed: the human dimension of our market activities. This aspect is related to in the Torah in a third mandate which is a kind of hybrid of the other two. The Torah warns us not to demand a pawn (collateral) from a widow before the loan is due.
"Don't distort the judgment of a stranger or an orphan, and don't repossess the garment of a widow" (Deuteronomy 24:17). The Talmud concludes that this commandment, despite its economic nature, applies even to a wealthy widow. The explanation is that this kind of demand can be demeaning or distressing beyond its economic impact.
We all recognize that some "normal" market activities, particularly collections, often involve unpleasant interactions which neither side is necessarily particularly proud of afterwards. We should always be sensitive to the human side of these transactions, and if a widow is involved, we should be especially careful that everything is carried out in a businesslike fashion.
Some authorities have written that this commandment applies equally to divorced women (Sema CM 97:22); others disagree (Shach). In general, we should learn from the Torah's attitude towards widows that we should display special consideration towards anyone who is financially or emotionally vulnerable.
“Meaning in Mitzvot” is now undergoing intensive editing; which will be followed IYH by printing. With the help of loyal supporters, we hope to have the book on the shelves by Rosh HaShana. If you would be interested in helping with publication, please contact Rabbi Meir about making a dedication or subscription (advance purchase): E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, fax 02-642-3141.
Rabbi Meir authors a popular weekly on-line Q&A column, "The Jewish Ethicist", which gives Jewish guidance on everyday ethical dilemmas in the workplace. The column is a joint project of the JCT Center for Business Ethics, Jerusalem College of Technology - Machon Lev; and Aish HaTorah. You can see the Jewish Ethicist, and submit your own Qs — www.jewishethicist.com or www.aish.com.