Monday, December 30, 2013

#203 - Thou Shalt Not B A STRANGER

Don't think that the subject line is mentioned anywhere in the Tanach (Jewish Bible), though there are similar phrases to this, such as "Thou shalt not oppress a stranger", and "Thou shalt love the stranger".

I will get to why I worded the subject line the way that I did shortly.  But first, I would like to point out that the word for stranger in Biblical Hebrew is Ger, which contains the same letters - just in reverse - as the Hebrew number for 203.

In life, whom we view as strangers don't necessarily reflect the Torah's view as to who are strangers.  But first, we have to know to whom the Torah refers to when it says the word Ger.  So first, let us turn to Parshat Mishpatim "You shall not oppress a stranger.  You should know what it feels like being a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt." (Exodus 23:9).  At least in this context, the first mention of stranger refers to one who converted to Judaism.  Our rabbis tell us that we are not supposed to say things to him such as "Remember the deeds of your ancestors" or say about him "Oh, yesterday, he ate all kinds of non-kosher foods, and today he puts himself under the wings of the Shechina (Divine Presence)".

Now the question can be asked, "If the Torah mentions that we were strangers in Egypt, where it means that we were in a land that was not ours as the Egyptians', then perhaps the word stranger here means someone whom we don't know, even if it is an observant Jew."  Well, it is true that there are those who say that until the time we were ready to receive the Torah, we we not officially Jews, though we may have had to observe a few more Mitzvot than the other nations.    And there are those who hold, though not necessarily in this context, that we are supposed to treat other Jews who visit or have come to live in our town that they don't have connections with - as our fellow Jews as we would want ourselves or our friends in the local synagogue would want to be treated.  But I think that the main point here is that the Torah focuses on the feelings of the convert who, while he may be in love with our way of life, deep down inside, he knows that he doesn't come from the same cultural background that most of us come from, and so, unless he is made to feel at home as we would want to do for any friend who visits us from out of town, he will truly feel that he is being treated as a stranger.  And when we were in Egypt, we weren't only (not) treated as second clas citizens, but we were literally slaves, when even our basic rights of respect as human beings weren't granted.

Next, let's turn to Parshat Kedoshim ''When a Ger (convert) comes to live with you in your land, don't hurt his feelings.  The Ger who lives among you has to be treated just as the citizens among you.  You shall love him as yourself, for your were strangers in the land of Egypt.  I am Hashem you G-d."  (Leviticus 19:33,34)
Now, the good news here is that loving a convert is not merely fulfilling a Mitzva in the Torah to love the convert, but it is additonal to the Mitzva of loving one's fellow Jew that is stated a little earlier in this Parsha (verse 18).  In another words, one fulfills an EXTRA Mitzva by loving the convert, and hence, more brownie points in Heaven.  But for some reason, this Mitzva of loving the convert is actually derived from Parshat Eikev "You shall love the Ger, for you were strangers in Egypt" (Deutronomy 10:19)

While no doubt, there are always those who are careful to perform ALL Mitzvot that are possible to be fulfilled, there are those who will rationalize certain things, and including pertaining to the Mitzva of loving the convert.  I once read a letter in the Jewish Press from a Jewish Afro-American lady (don't remember if she wrote about being a convert, but the message here will be clear) who called up a Yeshiva day school in Crown Heights to send her child to.  On the phone, she was told about paying a certain amount for tuition and were discussing about sending the child on the school bus.  However, when the lady came in person, she was told that she would have to pay full tuition and that her child will not be able to use the school bus.

I'm sure that the above story is far from the only such story in what goes on in the Yeshiva educational system, though I will not say that this is what goes on in every single such school.  However, I can tell you from personal experience when I worked on dating for several years in the United States where I contacted over 100 matchmakers over a period of time, and I told them what I was looking for, and I always indicated that I would be open to a convert.  My friends, guess how many converts were even suggested to me as a possibility?  You guessed it folks - not one!  Why?  I won't believe that very few girls of a younger age who converted to Judaism exist.  All the time, men and women of almost all adult ages convert to Judaism. And I happen to know from one older lady who converted to Judaism, observed it well, and was looking for a Shidduch.  Anyways, there was one matchmaker that she had contacted, and before the lady knew it, everyone around knew that she was a convert, which didn't make things easier for the lady, which was obviously thanks to the Baba Yenta (Yiddish for one who has a big mouth) matchmaker who was supposed to keep private the information of her clients, especially when it comes to something personal, like Shidduchim, to begin with.

It is true that when I came to Israel and dated, I was offered two bona fide converts (there was another who went thorugh the conversion to be sure that she was Jewish) as dates, neither of whcih worked out.  But for good news about those who love converts, I heard a story pertaining to one convert who decided that his Derech (way) would be being a Belzer Chosid (a follower of the Hasidic Belz dynasty).  The next thing he knew, the present Belzer Rebbe, Shlita had him summoned.  When the convert arrived, the Rebbe pointed him to a Chosid follower of his who would take care of the convert's needs; and in time, the Chosid found him a job and a Shidduch.

Think of it.  Unless somone has a dynamic, open personality, or is famous, how is one who doesn't know anyone in town supposed to feel.  Sure, if you know you have to survive, you somehow find a way to do it. But, I think we will all agree that if we were in this position, we would want someone to be there for us for basic questions, moral support, and offer us a place to stop by for at least a friendly chat over coffee and cake, especially if we make Aliyah, despite friends having moved to Israel before us and the vast amount of information on the subject of Aliyah on the net.  And not just because we need help with something, but that we don't need to feel lonely and instead, feel part of a community, the same way that a convert is supposed to feel, to be given no less of an opportunity of finding work and a spouse.

Now in Hebrew, at least in these days, we refer to a convert to Judaism as a Ger Tzedek "righteous convert".  This phrase is especially pertinent today when people go through a phony conversion via the Conservative or Reform movement, when they are no more Jewish the day after than they were the day before. It is all too common for the boyfriend or girlfriend to go through the few thousand dollar conversion ceremony that will stuff more money in the "rabbi"'s pocket towards his next Porsch, but it is clear from Jewish tradition that converting because of marriage is an invalid reason for converting.  After all, if one converts to any given religion, it is with the understanding that they convert to that particular religion because they believe in it, and presumably, they will be following what the religion requires.  So then, why should it be any different when it comes to the only authentic religion (which really isn't the right word for Judaism, but I won't get too technical now)?

Now, there is another type of Ger that the Torah bids us to give assistance as we would for someone who is Jewish - a Ger Toshav (literally "stranger resident").  There are differences as to who qualifies as a Ger Toshav, but it could either be one who accepts the Seven Noahide Laws (Sheva Mitzvot Bnei Noach) or at least one who repudiates idolatry and perhaps will observe some of the Mitzvot of the Torah, but doesn't keep kosher.  In any case, we see how far the Torah goes as far as making people feel at home.

And there is another type of stranger situation that we should be mindful of.  You see, children are trained from since they are young by responsible parents not to listen to strangers, not to accept candy from them, etc.  Now, a true meaningful stranger, that is, someone who doesn't know the family or child, will not approach a child to offer candy or anything like that without the presence of a parent to begin with, unless let's say, the child is crying, and the guy wants to help the child.  And while we all Jews are supposed to be treated as brothers and sisters unless there are pending facts that show they could be dangerous physically or spiritually, children still need to be trained accordingly.  While it may not happen every day in a religious community or school, there are unfortunately those who look very religious sometimes, and perhaps even the teacher or principal himself, who is a sexual predator.  For that matter, anyone wearing a skullcap could walk to a religious Jewish school, call a child by his/her name, and the rest is history.  And so, for safety reason, children need to always be forwarned of these things - not because we want to hate anybody, but strictly for their safety.

Now, for the ongoing Sephira combination, we are up to the 12th one - Hod She'B'Gevurah.  Now, I don't see any connection between this particular Sephira and the topic of this post, except for the fact that the letters of the word Ger are included in the word for the Sephira of Gevurah, and the word Gibor (strong) begins with a Gimel and ends with a Reish, the letters that make up the word Ger.  However, the date of this corresponding Sephirah is 27 Nissan, which is observed as Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Day).  Now the truth is, the great Torah scholars and leaders of these past couple of generations never officially accepted this day as Yom HaShoah, since first of all, since Nissan is a month that is supposed to be considered of a festive nature to the extent that we do not recite the Tachanun (supplicatory) prayers throughout this month, and so, we don't establish a rather solemn day of this month to begin with.  Also, the idea that this day should be chosen as such, regardless of the reason, was not the idea of the rabbis, but of others who were not necessarily observant Jews.

In any case, being that the topic of the Holocaust has been brought here through this connection, we will go for it.  Though there were a number of countries that clearly showed their anti-Semitism when it came time for the Holocaust and allowed and/or assisted the Nazis to ship out the Jews and make slaves of them or murder them, the country that gets the most points on this is Germany.  And I don't think it will take long to figure out - the first syllable of the word Germany is...Ger!  Yes, a country where there were Jews who behaved more like gentiles than the gentiles themselves, and hence, thought this would save them from continued anti-Semitic persecution.  Well, Hitler came along, and he made no distinction betw een religious and secular Jews, for both types were standing side by side at the gas chambers.  Indeed, it was Germany who were the biggest STRANGERS to us, for all of a sudden, they showed themselves as though they never had friendly ties with us once Hitler gave them the green light.

Now, observant Jews generally aren't so bothered by anti-Semitism, at least in terms of the rationale, or rather, irrationality behind it, because they know that anti-Semites are just pawns by Hashem that allows them to be this way to wake Jews up.  However, it is the non-observant Jews who are typically very bothered by this because after all, we Jews have contributed so much to the world, we have gone out of our way to help Afro-Americans, etc.  I recently came across a blogpost in which there is an article from an IDF soldier visiting the States and giving lectures, and among the various anti-Semitism that he encountered, there was a lady professor who asked him how many Palestinians did the IDF rape.  When the soldier replied that he didn't know of any, she replied that of course the IDF soldiers didn't rape any Palestinians, because they are so disgusted and racist against them, they wouldn't even touch them.

Personally, in all my years of reading about anti-Semitism, I think that this cuts the cake.  It has been nothing new for gentiles to blame us for everything under the sun, even when it was their fault, such as the Black Plague in the Middle Ages, or rather, Dark Ages, when it was due to insanitary conditions on their part that this happened when the Jews were rather very clean, for we have to wash our hands, go to the Mikva (ritualarium), etc.  And so, blaming us for something as a result of not behaving like animals to our sworn enemies is just like blaming someone for either one of two opposing choices that one makes.  For certainly, if IDF soldiers were to be rapists, the world would certainly pound on us for something that they themselves would do.  So, since they hate Jews and Israel, they find a way to find fault with what we are not doing wrong, despite the fact that the dictatorship Israeli government has no problem sending packages of food, medicine, etc. to our enemies in Gaza during war time, and can hardly wait to release more terrorists and give more land away to them.  However, this doesn't impress the world, and ironically, certainly not the Arab Moslems who call our land Palestine, for as far as they are concerned, ALL of the terrorists that hurt our brethren should be released from Israeli prisons, and we should walk away from ALL of Israel for their Palestinian dream, not just a few prisoner terrorists here (even if they are over a 1,000 of them released at one time as it happened the other year as a tradeoff for Gilad Shalit), and not just another significant piece of land there. They want it all, and the world will blame us for anything and everything that goes wrong with the "peace" process that Israel didn't have to agree with to begin with, as we are blamed for the "Palestinians" not wanting to have peace, as though they were forced in a corner to murder and maim Jews, G-d forbid, and so this "proves" that we are the ones who don't want peace.

So the question is, who is the true stranger, the one whom we treat as a stranger - or we - when we don't want to do the right thing and we treat the other person as though he or she is doing something wrong by existing because we have our prejudices pertaining to their color, race, lifestyle, culture, etc.?  I will say that there is a fine line between not having a group of friends who belong to a different culture and having total disgust for them to such an extent that we won't even say hello to them but we will speak bad about them when the subject about them come up in conversation.

And by the way, for those Modern Orthodox girls looking for guys with college degrees only (or with big money), such as a minimum B.A. degree, (and it happens the other way too by the way, though maybe not as much), aside from the fact that they don't have true faith in Hashem Who provides a living for all who look to work, they are truly not looking to marry out of love.  Now don't get me wrong, I am not saying that they should feel that they have to marry someone like a truck driver.  However, the college degree is only an aid to getting what could be a good career, but working for someone else due to the college degree is still not being in much control of one's livelihood as one who owns a successful business even without a college degree.  And then of course, some of these college educated women wonder why they get divorced one day, even though both husband and wife have college degrees, have good jobs, keep the Orthodox Jewish faith - at least as far as they think they do; but something is just missing from the puzzle.  In this case, I say - Thou Shalt Not B A Stranger Against A Non-B.A. Human Being.

But for everyone else - Thou Shalt Not Be A Stranger To Someone Else, at least the same way that we would not be treated as a stranger BY someone else.  As Hillel said to one who came to him to be converted to Judaism "Don't do to others anything hateful that you don't want to be done to you", based on the Commandment of "Thou shalt love your friend as thyself".

27 Tevet, 5774

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