Your Shul at the Jersey Shore

Shabbat Parshat Ekev 5778

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Love the Convert

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5773

Living here in this area had made me particularly sensitive to passages in the Torah that detail our relationship to the Ger, to the convert.

What really stood out from this morning’s parsha was not simply the command to love the convert; it was the context in which the statement was found.

In 10/12 the Torah asks – what does God want from you? מה יקוק אלהיך שאל מעמך

The answer is – to fear God and walk in his ways, to love God and serve God with all of your heart and soul. Keep the mitzvoth etc.

That theme is repeated a few verses later.

In between the focus on loving God and keeping the mitzvoth we find –

יז) כי יקוק אלהיכם הוא אלהי האלהים ואדני האדנים האל הגדל הגבר והנורא אשר לא ישא פנים ולא יקח שחד

יח) עשה משפט יתום ואלמנה ואהב גר לתת לו לחם ושמלה

יט) ואהבתם את הגר כי גרים הייתם בארץ מצרים

17. For the Lord your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God,mighty and awesome, which favors no person, nor takes bribes;

  1. He executes the judgment of the orphan and widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and garment.
  2. Love you therefore the stranger; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

It struck me that in this section, which is all about loving and serving God, there is a lot of general instruction to serve etc. But there is only one direct command to the people, one mitzvah and that is to love the convert because we were converts in Egypt.

Why should that be? Why is this so important that it is the only one?

In order to answer that question we first have to look at the command and try to properly understand it. Why make our love for the convert contingent upon the fact that we were slaves in Egypt?

Rashi writes – מום שבך אל תאמר לחברך, it is not appropriate to attribute a flaw to others that you yourself possess. It sounds like a rabbinic version of people in glass houses should not throw stones.

The Ramban here directs us to his comments in Shmot where we find a similar command.

שמות פרק כב

כ) וגר לא תונה ולא תלחצנו כי גרים הייתם בארץ מצרים

Do not oppress the convert because you were slaves in Egypt.

Rashi there argues that you should not oppress the ger because they will respond to you – you came from converts as well.

The Ramban does not accept the Rashi’s approach.

It can’t be that all Geirim are protected because once upon a time we were strangers in Egypt. There does not make sense at all, writes the Ramban.

I would add this glass house approach certainly does not justify its inclusion in our parsha. It does not explain why it is the only mitzvah listed specifically. That mitzvah must be an inherently critical and important one.

Rather the Ramban argues that the connection between don’t oppress the convert and you were slaves in Egypt is as follows:

Don’t think that you can get away with oppressing the convert because there will be no one there to defend him or her. That is not the case, I God will always hear their cry and I will protect them. When you were strangers in Egypt I heard your cry, I felt your pain and I saved you. I will do the same for all geirim.

The Ramban works in context in Shmot but I am not sure if it works for us in Parshat Ekev. It goes without saying that we should not oppress the helpless but he does not explain why we must love them. The Ramban does not explain why this is so important.

He also seems to shift our focus to the “man- God” when our focus should be solely on our conduct in the human realm.

It is for that reason that I prefer the approach of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch.

In his commentary to our parsha he records one of the great lines in biblical commentary. “With the acceptance of the convert it will be revealed that purity in your humanity is the highest level and achievement in your eyes. Equality in law and the love that Israel has for the ger is what characterizes the people and the land as God’s people and God’s land. In other groups a person’s status is based on origin and wealth, but within God’s people on God’s land it is only the purity of our humanity that defines a person’s status.”

What is the connection to Egypt?

In Egypt the Jews were deprived of all rights and privileges because they were different. They could not own land and did not even have the right to exist. They did not appreciate that a person’s worth is not based on yichus, or birthplace or wealth. They did not understand that a person’s true value is based on their humanity and spirituality. That lack of understanding, argues Hirsch is the root cause of the abomination that was Egypt.

This is not “love the convert” because someone could throw it back in your face, or because God will exact their revenge. This is “love the convert” because it is a measure, a barometer of our humanity and our Judaism. How you treat the person who is different is an indicator of your value and belief system. Do we truly understand a person’s worth? That is the question that is answered with our conduct towards the Ger.

That is an unbelievable piece of commentary. It also explains why love the Ger is the only mitzvah specifically listed here. It is that important and it answers the question that the Torah asks, what does God want from us?!