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"Ve-Ahavta! --- And You Shall Love!"

01/30/2019 11:54:07 AM


Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

In this week's parashah, in this week's Torah portion (Parashat Mishpatim), we find the following verse: "And a stranger ("ger") you shall not oppress, for you know the soul of a stranger, as you were strangers in the "Eretz Mitzrayim" (the Land of Egypt)."  The Torah commands us to love every Jew as well as not to cause any Jew harm or pain.  It is interesting to note that the word "ger," which is translated in this verse to mean "stranger," can also be translated to mean "convert" (i.e.- one who has voluntarily accepted Judaism through a "Beit Din" [a Rabbinically sanctioned court tribunal]).  With this in mind, the verse prohibits us from oppressing the convert.  Why?  Perhaps the following story will explain why.

As part of a scientific study, a man dressed up as a homeless individual and entered a restaurant.  He approached a table where a young man was eating an enormous meal.  The "homeless" man explained to the young man that he had not eaten anything as yet that day.  He then asked the young man if he would share some of his food with him (the "homeless man").  The young man refused to do so and continued eating.  The "homeless" man then moved to the next table and related his"tale of woe" to a young woman who was eating a salad that was large enough to feed three people.  Alas. she, too, refused to share her meal.  At the next table, the "homeless" man found a family who was eating a meal filled with various delicacies.  And, once again, his request was refused.  What did he do?  He left the restaurant.  The "homeless" man then continued his scientific study by having his friend purchase a bagel sandwich and deliver it to a genuine homeless man who was sitting on a park bench.  When this truly homeless man saw this bagel sandwich, his eyes opened wide,  He thanked the man who gave him the sandwich and eagerly bit into the bagel with obvious delight and enthusiasm.  It is at that moment that the "homeless" man (the one conducting the scientific study) approached the genuine homeless man and asked him if he could have a part of the bagel sandwich.  What did the genuine homeless man do?  He split the sandwich in half and shared it with the "homeless" man who asked for it.  Why the difference in outcomes?  The people in the restaurant were being more than merely apathetic  towards the needs of another human being.  They did not respond as human beings to the request of the "homeless" man because they could not relate to his pain.  Only a truly homeless person, one who has experienced the pain of hunger, could understand the needs of another person in the same situation and respond in kind.

As Jews, we have lived in far too many places where we have been made to feel as though we were outcasts and strangers.  While as Jews we have the commandment to love all of our fellow Jews, our responsibility and obligation is even more important to the "ger" (i.e.- the convert/the stranger).  Why?  Because we, too, have experienced those same feelings.  It is time we used our experiences as a driving force to assist others who find themselves in the same situation we have been in.

Sun, September 15 2019 15 Elul 5779