In Parshat Mishpatim (Shmot 22:21) we are commanded: “You must not mistreat (lo t’anun) any widow or orphan.”
Rashi comments that nobody should be mistreated. Nevertheless, since widows and orphans are frequently mistreated, the Torah specifically points them out.
Rav Saadia Gaon explains that not mistreating includes not mistreating their bodies as well as their money and dealing with them fairly in a court of law.
According to Ibn Ezra, whoever sees someone mistreating a widow or an orphan and doesn’t go to help them is considered as if they themselves are mistreating them.
Although it may seem obvious to some of us, the Torah emphasizes the fact that we must not mistreat the widow and the orphan (as well as the convert) as they may not have anyone to stand up for them.
The same is true for many residents of nursing homes.
Over the past few weeks, an issue arose in Israel where many nursing homes have been exposed as not treating their residents properly. Security cameras are now being installed in Israel’s 120 nursing homes to make sure that if there is a case of abuse it will be caught. Unfortunately, there is a culture in long term care facilities to pay more attention to the needs of those residents who have family and friends checking up on them on a regular basis and neglecting those who don’t. It is the responsibility of all those who work in or visit nursing homes to speak up if they see residents being mistreated. This includes looking out for physical abuse, verbal abuse and theft.
We must remember that if we don’t personally step in to help those who are vulnerable it is as if we too are mistreating them.