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    Levi Yitzchak & the orphans – Mishpatim

    “You shall not afflict the widow and orphan” (Ex. 22:21).

    This is a fundamental part of the law and ethics of the Torah, and it has its positive expression in the often repeated injunction to ensure that the disadvantaged must share the celebration of Shabbat and the festivals with you and never be left unprotected.

    The magnificence of the verse is inspiring.

    Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, however, was upset by it and wept. He said to God, “Master of the Universe, on innumerable occasions the Torah demands in Your name that no-one shall afflict the orphan. But what about Your own people, Israel?

    “We are orphans in history (Lam. 5:3)! We are bereft of protection and friends!

    “Why do You not obey Your own commandment, and redeem Your people from its bitter exile?”

    The story does not record God’s response; one hopes that, in a figurative sense, He too wept.

    But what would have happened had Levi Yitzchak been living in our generation?

    He would have had much to weep about; but, thank God, he would have had cause to sing as well.

    The twentieth century saw the orphan people suffering as never before; it also witnessed the miraculous Divine gift of the establishment and protection of the State of Israel and the resurgence of Judaism and Jewish learning.

    What the new century will bring the Jewish people is now very much in our own Jewish hands.

    We can only hope that we will fulfil what is up to us and give both the Almighty and Levi Yitzchak ample reason to rejoice in us.

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