Return to main index

N6. Exploiting a Neighbor's Weakness.    [Make a Comment]

We are not to exploit a neighbor's weakness to gain advantage, but are rather to help him to overcome.

This precept is derived from His Word (blessed is He):

Key Scriptures

Exodus 22:21(22) (Maimonides RN256; Meir MN51; Chinuch C65)
You are not to abuse any widow or orphan.

Exodus 22:22-23(23-24)
If you do abuse them in any way, and they cry to me, I will certainly heed their cry. My anger will burn, and I will kill you with the sword - your own wives will be widows and your own children fatherless.

Deuteronomy 24:14
You are not to exploit a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether one of your brothers or a foreigner living in your land in your town.

Isaiah 10:1-2
Woe to those who enact unjust decrees and draft oppressive legislation to deprive the impoverished of justice and rob my people's poor of their rights, looting widows and preying on orphans!

Zechariah 7:10
Don't oppress widows, orphans, foreigners or poor people. Don't plot evil against each other.

Psalms 35:10
All my bones will say, "Who is like you? Who can rescue the weak from those stronger than they, the poor and needy from those who exploit them?"

Psalm 68:6(5)
God in his holy dwelling, is a father to orphans and defender of widows.

Matthew 9:35
Yeshua went about all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and weakness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were harried and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Matthew 10:1
Yeshua called his twelve talmidim and gave them authority to drive out unclean spirits and to heal every kind of disease and weakness.

1 Thessalonians 5:14
... but we urge you, brothers, to confront those who are lazy, your aim being to help them change, to encourage the timid, to assist the weak, and to be patient with everyone.

James 1:27
The religious observance that God the Father considers pure and faultless is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being contaminated by the world.


In ancient times, widows, orphans, and the poor were the principal disadvantaged classes, so when we read commandments related to them, it is fair to interpret them to include persons with other disadvantages and weaknesses brought about by circumstance. Scripture is clear that God is against anyone who exploits such persons or causes them harm. Indeed, they are to be protected and ministered to so that they may overcome their respective weaknesses or even be delivered from them. This is a proactive responsibility related to loving the stranger, our neighbor and even our enemy, helping our neighbor who is in need, and giving charity. It is not sufficient to merely do them no harm; it is required that we seek to improve their condition to the extent possible.

Deuteronomy 24:14 makes it clear that we are not to exploit a poor and needy worker whether he is a brother or a stranger, and the examples of Yeshua and His disciples are that they did not distinguish between brothers and strangers in who they attempted to proactively help. As in the giving of charity, the Holy Spirit must be consulted to determine the level of help that is reasonable and required of us in each circumstance that comes to our attention.

It is important to keep in mind that exploitation is not just benefitting from a person; it is deriving benefit from another unfairly by preying on his weakness. Not only does Scripture demand that we not do this, but it requires the opposite - that we seek to help disadvantaged persons and, to the extent that we are able, give them relief from their disability.

Classical Commentators

One can derive this Mitzvah by piecing together a number of the classical ones, but the single closest classical mitzvah is Maimonides' RN256 that prohibits our dealing harshly with widows and orphans. HaChinuch's C65 terms it "afflicting", and Meir's MN51 terms it "inflicting suffering". None of these deal explicitly with exploitation, and Deuteronomy 24:14 that does prohibit exploitation of the poor and needy worker is not referenced by any of the classical commentators.


Return to main index