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Issue #95 - 01/12
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Eli Dahan

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Widows in the Old Testament

After the last webinar I had with you, dear students, I have received an e-mail that asked me: "as a Biblical Hebrew teacher- what can you tell me about widows in the Hebrew Bible?" (Jane, Australia).
After a small research , I have come to these results. The first time  that we find the word widow is in Genesis 38. The first widow  (Hebrew: אַלְמָנָה) in the Bible is Tamar, who has lost her husband ,due to his sins as written:

" וַיִּקַּח יְהוּדָה אִשָּׁה, לְעֵר בְּכוֹרוֹ; וּשְׁמָהּ, תָּמָר. וַיְהִי, עֵר בְּכוֹר יְהוּדָה--רַע, בְּעֵינֵי יְהוָה; וַיְמִתֵהוּ, יְהוָה. וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוּדָה לְאוֹנָן, בֹּא אֶל-אֵשֶׁת אָחִיךָ וְיַבֵּם אֹתָהּ; וְהָקֵם זֶרַע, לְאָחִיךָ. וַיֵּדַע אוֹנָן, כִּי לֹּא לוֹ יִהְיֶה הַזָּרַע; וְהָיָה אִם-בָּא אֶל-אֵשֶׁת אָחִיו, וְשִׁחֵת אַרְצָה, לְבִלְתִּי נְתָן-זֶרַע, לְאָחִיו. וַיֵּרַע בְּעֵינֵי יְהוָה, אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה; וַיָּמֶת, גַּם-אֹתוֹ. וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוּדָה לְתָמָר כַּלָּתוֹ שְׁבִי אַלְמָנָה בֵית-אָבִיךְ, עַד-יִגְדַּל שֵׁלָה בְנִי--כִּי אָמַר, פֶּן-יָמוּת גַּם-הוּא כְּאֶחָיו; וַתֵּלֶךְ תָּמָר, וַתֵּשֶׁב בֵּית אָבִיהָ"

" Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the LORD’s sight; so the LORD put him to death. Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the LORD’s sight; so the LORD put him to death also. Judah then said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Live as a widow in your father’s household until my son Shelah grows up.”(Genesis 38:6-11)

One of the next webinars in Febuary will revolve around this chapter, but I must say, from the first examination of these words, we can see that Tamar should be passive. She should stay in her father's house after the death of her husband.
The next time we encounter the word widow would be in the Biblical law. The widow is one of the poor people among with the orphan as we can see in Exodus 22:21-23-


" כָּל-אַלְמָנָה וְיָתוֹם, לֹא תְעַנּוּן. אִם-עַנֵּה תְעַנֶּה, אֹתוֹ--כִּי אִם-צָעֹק יִצְעַק אֵלַי, שָׁמֹעַ אֶשְׁמַע צַעֲקָתוֹ. וְחָרָה אַפִּי, וְהָרַגְתִּי אֶתְכֶם בֶּחָרֶב; וְהָיוּ נְשֵׁיכֶם אַלְמָנוֹת, וּבְנֵיכֶם יְתֹמִים"

" Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; Your wives will become widows and your children fatherless."

Pay attention to this commandment here. If one will cause widows to be tortured, the outcome of his destiny will be the same as the widow's. 
And now, few more details about the widows:
 The priests of Israel cannot take widows to be their wives (Leviticus 21:14). If the priest's daughter becomes a widow, she can't  get married once more. She needs to go back to her father's house (Leviticus 22:13). The widow should get every three years a tithe, as written:

" מִקְצֵה שָׁלֹשׁ שָׁנִים, תּוֹצִיא אֶת-כָּל-מַעְשַׂר תְּבוּאָתְךָ, בַּשָּׁנָה, הַהִוא; וְהִנַּחְתָּ, בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ. וּבָא הַלֵּוִי כִּי אֵין-לוֹ חֵלֶק וְנַחֲלָה עִמָּךְ, וְהַגֵּר וְהַיָּתוֹם וְהָאַלְמָנָה אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ, וְאָכְלוּ, וְשָׂבֵעוּ--לְמַעַן יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בְּכָל-מַעֲשֵׂה יָדְךָ אֲשֶׁר תַּעֲשֶׂה"

" At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites who have no allotment or inheritance of their own and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands."(Deuteronomy 14:28-29)

More commandments about the presents for the poor people and the widows among them you can find in Deuteronomy 16:9-14; 24:17-21; 26:12-13.
In the book of Kings there are two important stories with widows. Both relate to an important prophet. I chose today to bring the story about the widow that Elisha needed to help,as written in 2 Kings 4:1-7-


Elisha and the widow

" וְאִשָּׁה אַחַת מִנְּשֵׁי בְנֵי-הַנְּבִיאִים צָעֲקָה אֶל-אֱלִישָׁע לֵאמֹר, עַבְדְּךָ אִישִׁי מֵת, וְאַתָּה יָדַעְתָּ, כִּי עַבְדְּךָ הָיָה יָרֵא אֶת-יְהוָה; וְהַנֹּשֶׁה--בָּא לָקַחַת אֶת-שְׁנֵי יְלָדַי לוֹ, לַעֲבָדִים. וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלֶיהָ אֱלִישָׁע, מָה אֶעֱשֶׂה-לָּךְ, הַגִּידִי לִי, מַה-יֶּשׁ-לכי (לָךְ) בַּבָּיִת; וַתֹּאמֶר, אֵין לְשִׁפְחָתְךָ כֹל בַּבַּיִת, כִּי, אִם-אָסוּךְ שָׁמֶן. וַיֹּאמֶר, לְכִי שַׁאֲלִי-לָךְ כֵּלִים מִן-הַחוּץ, מֵאֵת, כָּל-שכנכי (שְׁכֵנָיִךְ)--כֵּלִים רֵקִים, אַל-תַּמְעִיטִי. וּבָאת, וְסָגַרְתְּ הַדֶּלֶת בַּעֲדֵךְ וּבְעַד-בָּנַיִךְ, וְיָצַקְתְּ, עַל כָּל-הַכֵּלִים הָאֵלֶּה; וְהַמָּלֵא, תַּסִּיעִי. וַתֵּלֶךְ, מֵאִתּוֹ, וַתִּסְגֹּר הַדֶּלֶת, בַּעֲדָהּ וּבְעַד בָּנֶיהָ; הֵם מַגִּישִׁים אֵלֶיהָ, וְהִיא מיצקת (מוֹצָקֶת). וַיְהִי כִּמְלֹאת הַכֵּלִים, וַתֹּאמֶר אֶל-בְּנָהּ הַגִּישָׁה אֵלַי עוֹד כֶּלִי, וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלֶיהָ, אֵין עוֹד כֶּלִי; וַיַּעֲמֹד, הַשָּׁמֶןוַתָּבֹא, וַתַּגֵּד לְאִישׁ הָאֱלֹהִים, וַיֹּאמֶר לְכִי מִכְרִי אֶת-הַשֶּׁמֶן, וְשַׁלְּמִי אֶת-נשיכי (נִשְׁיֵךְ); וְאַתְּ בניכי (וּבָנַיִךְ), תִּחְיִי בַּנּוֹתָר"

" The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the LORD. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.” Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?” “Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a small jar of olive oil.”  Elisha said, “Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.”  She left him and shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. When all the jars were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another one.” But he replied, “There is not a jar left.” Then the oil stopped flowing.  She went and told the man of God, and he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.”

What can we learn from this story? The widow must have miracles in her life in order to pay her debts. For me, the people who needed to help her is us and not a prophet. It is our obligation and commitment to help all who suffered losses in their life- this is our debt!
 Have a blesses week, Eli

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