D’var Torah for September 8, 2017

In this week’s parasha, Ki Tavo, Moses reminds the Israelites how after they cross over the Jordan River, representatives of the tribes will stand either on Mt. Gerizim or Mt. Ebal offering up either blessings or curses upon the Israelites as they pass through. After hearing each specific curse, the Israelites were to respond with, “Amen.”

Originally the concept of “amen” is related to “emunah,” meaning faith or belief. Nowadays we use this word to confirm the acceptance of a prayer or blessing as in “let us all say: amen.” In the case of Ki Tavo, it was more likely an acknowledgement of the stated curse. For example, in Deuteronomy 27:19, “Cursed be the one who subverts the rights of the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. – And all the people shall say, Amen.”

This idea is a reflection of an earlier commandment found in Leviticus, “When strangers sojourn with you in your land, you shall not do them wrong. The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” [19:33-34].

As is stated by the Religious Action Center, “This principle permeates Jewish tradition and is echoed 35 times in the Torah – the most repeated of any commandment.”

Given recent developments in the political sphere regarding DACA, it is incumbent upon as, as Jews, to recall and reflect upon what our tradition has to say regarding the stranger in our midst.

People can disagree on policy approaches when it comes to the dreamers. However, given our tradition’s emphasis on kindness towards the stranger, we should always err on the side of compassion when creating policy. For we were all, at one time, strangers in the land of Egypt.

And let us say, “Amen.”

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Benjamin Sharff