… the father of orphans, the champion of widows, God restores the lonely to their homes, sets free the imprisoned, safe and sound (68:6-7)
Orphans and widows – in the Biblical paradigm, these categories represent society’s most vulnerable. The Psalmist pictures God as the great protector of those on the fringes of society. This contrasts with Exodus 22:21, in which we are warned against mistreating the vulnerable, “You shall not mistreat any widow or orphan,” and Deuteronomy 27:19, which curses one who does not uphold the rights of the widows and orphans. Three times in Deuteronomy 24 and 26, the Torah commands a special tzedakah obligation to take care of widows and orphans. If God is in charge of protecting the vulnerable, then clearly God has delegated the responsibility to us.
It is our obligation to watch out and protect those who live their lives on the economic or social margins of society. Single mothers are economically vulnerable. Children without fathers in their homes are vulnerable to fall prey to gang and other criminal activity. To expand the pool of the vulnerable – gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender teens; people with mental illnesses; people who have served time in prison, especially those whose crime labels them as a sexual offender; and those who are homeless. God may be in charge of restoring them to their homes, safe and sound, but it is our wallets, tax dollars, willing hearts and helping hands that will make it happen.
Very timely Rabbi. I have always been very moved by the magnitude of what the ‘widows and orphans’ phrase encompasses. It is still, and perhaps even more, relevant today.