D’var Torah for August 23, 2019

This week we will be reading from parashat Eikev. Rather than do my usual exploration of the parasha for the weekly D’var Torah, I’ll first be presenting a passage from Deuteronomy and then following it with a commentary from Rabbi Pinchas HaCohen Peli.
A piece of background, Rabbi Peli was a Jerusalem-born scholar, rabbi, essayist and poet. Rabbi Peli was also a renowned Modern Orthodox Scholar and a Professor of Jewish Thought and Literature at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
In Deuteronomy we find the following passage, “For the Eternal your God is God supreme and Lord Supreme, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who shows no favor and takes no bribe, but upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and befriends the stranger, providing food and clothing. – You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt.”[1]
In the words of Pinchas Peli, “According to the Talmud (Baba Metzia 59b) the injunction to love the stranger and treat him in justice and mercy appears no less than thirty-six, some say forty-six times in the Bible. The fact that it is reiterated so many times tells us two things: first, that it must be of utmost importance in the eyes of the Bible; secondly, that it is most probably a neglected area, or something which people are liable to forget, to overlook, or even find all kinds of “explanations” to do away with. The Torah repeats again and again: Remember, you must not mistreat the stranger within thy gates, nor can you evade the issue.” [2]
As Peli goes on to explain further, “The proper treatment of the stranger which the Bible requires of us does not remain the realm of the lofty ideals paying lip-service to human rights in general. It is spelled out over and over again, in concrete terms. It must be expressed in equality in law and justice (Leviticus 24:22), in equal working conditions and equal pay for labor (Deuteronomy 24:14), an equal share in welfare support (Leviticus 25:35), and above all in respect and love. This last requirement, love, being the hardest is repeated several times, and reaches its peak in the Code of Holiness (Leviticus 19:33): ‘And if a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger … shall be unto you as the home-born among you, and you shall love him[3] as thyself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.’
‘Love him like yourself’ could very well mean, love him because he is like yourself. He is a human being with feelings and emotions and has the right to live with you in dignity. The conclusive close, ‘I am the Lord your God’ is said in the plural: ani hashem elohi-khem. Why? Rashi says: I am your God. I am as well his God. And Heschel said: ‘God is either the father of all man, or of no man.’”[4]
On this Shabbat, may we be inclined to remember that all people are created B’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God, and that we were once strangers in the Land of Egypt. Not only to remember our past, but also to use our past as a guide to help us in how we treat the strangers among us today.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Benjamin Sharff
[1] Deuteronomy 10:17-19
[2] Peli, Pinchas, Torah Today: A Renewed Encounter with Scripture, B’nai Brith Books, 1987. Pg. 209
[3] Apologies for the gender specific language. When I quote, b’shem omro, in the name of others, I like to do it verbatim even if the language choice is not one I would use in the same circumstance
[4] Peli, Pinchas, Torah Today: A Renewed Encounter with Scripture, B’nai Brith Books, 1987. Pg. 212