What Are Our Responsibilities to the Stranger? Introduction

Traditional as well as modern Jewish works have a lot to say about our responsibilities to those who are viewed as outsiders in our society. Tonight's text study will center around five themes that emerge from these texts. As you read through the texts and consider the themes, ask yourself: Which issue resonates most with you? Which sparks your curiosity? You will have the opportunity to delve more deeply into whichever theme you most want to study.

(לג) וְכִֽי־יָג֧וּר אִתְּךָ֛ גֵּ֖ר בְּאַרְצְכֶ֑ם לֹ֥א תוֹנ֖וּ אֹתֽוֹ׃ (לד) כְּאֶזְרָ֣ח מִכֶּם֩ יִהְיֶ֨ה לָכֶ֜ם הַגֵּ֣ר ׀ הַגָּ֣ר אִתְּכֶ֗ם וְאָהַבְתָּ֥ לוֹ֙ כָּמ֔וֹךָ כִּֽי־גֵרִ֥ים הֱיִיתֶ֖ם בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם אֲנִ֖י יקוק אֱלֹקֵיכֶֽם׃

(33) When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. (34) The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I the LORD am your God.

1) These verses contain a number of mitsvot, or commandments. Some are positive (telling us what to do), while some are negative (telling us what not to do). How many different mitsvot do you see in these verses, and what are they?

2) The Torah provides us with the reasoning behind these laws. What is it? Why are these important things to do? Does this logic resonate with you? Why or why not?

(ט) וְגֵ֖ר לֹ֣א תִלְחָ֑ץ וְאַתֶּ֗ם יְדַעְתֶּם֙ אֶת־נֶ֣פֶשׁ הַגֵּ֔ר כִּֽי־גֵרִ֥ים הֱיִיתֶ֖ם בְּאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם׃

(9) You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.

1) What do you think it means that we "know the feelings of the stranger?" What exactly is it that Jews know or have experienced, and how might this translate into our treatment towards others?

2) The Torah includes the prohibition against oppressing the stranger 36 times! What makes strangers so vulnerable, and how might we be expected to prevent their oppression?

(יא) וְשָׂמַחְתָּ֞ לִפְנֵ֣י ׀ יקוק אֱלֹקֶ֗יךָ אַתָּ֨ה וּבִנְךָ֣ וּבִתֶּךָ֮ וְעַבְדְּךָ֣ וַאֲמָתֶךָ֒ וְהַלֵּוִי֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר בִּשְׁעָרֶ֔יךָ וְהַגֵּ֛ר וְהַיָּת֥וֹם וְהָאַלְמָנָ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר בְּקִרְבֶּ֑ךָ בַּמָּק֗וֹם אֲשֶׁ֤ר יִבְחַר֙ יקוק אֱלֹקֶ֔יךָ לְשַׁכֵּ֥ן שְׁמ֖וֹ שָֽׁם׃ (יב) וְזָ֣כַרְתָּ֔ כִּי־עֶ֥בֶד הָיִ֖יתָ בְּמִצְרָ֑יִם וְשָׁמַרְתָּ֣ וְעָשִׂ֔יתָ אֶת־הַֽחֻקִּ֖ים הָאֵֽלֶּה׃ (פ)

(11) You shall rejoice before the Eternal your God with your son and daughter, your male and female slave, the Levite in your communities, and the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow in your midst, at the place where the Eternal your God will choose to establish God's name. (12) Bear in mind that you were slaves in Egypt, and take care to obey these laws.

1) In context, this verse describes the celebration of the holiday of Shavuot, but you can think about any festive occasion, Jewish or not, and imagine: How might it change your experience of a celebration to include all of these different categories of people?

2) What do you think is the connection between the commandment to have a very inclusive holiday celebration, and the need to remember that we were once slaves?

(כב) מִשְׁפַּ֤ט אֶחָד֙ יִהְיֶ֣ה לָכֶ֔ם כַּגֵּ֥ר כָּאֶזְרָ֖ח יִהְיֶ֑ה כִּ֛י אֲנִ֥י יקוק אֱלֹקֵיכֶֽם׃
(22) You shall have one standard for stranger and citizen alike: for I the LORD am your God.

1) What might it look like to have one standard for both stranger and citizen - or to NOT have one standard for all? Can you think of historical or modern examples of laws that distinguish between populations?

2) What do you think is the connection between the commandment to have one standard and the information about God at the end of the verse?

(יז) כִּ֚י יקוק אֱלֹֽקֵיכֶ֔ם ה֚וּא אֱלֹקֵ֣י הָֽאֱלֹקִ֔ים וַאדושם הָאֲדֹנִ֑ים הָאֵ֨ל הַגָּדֹ֤ל הַגִּבֹּר֙ וְהַנּוֹרָ֔א אֲשֶׁר֙ לֹא־יִשָּׂ֣א פָנִ֔ים וְלֹ֥א יִקַּ֖ח שֹֽׁחַד׃ (יח) עֹשֶׂ֛ה מִשְׁפַּ֥ט יָת֖וֹם וְאַלְמָנָ֑ה וְאֹהֵ֣ב גֵּ֔ר לָ֥תֶת ל֖וֹ לֶ֥חֶם וְשִׂמְלָֽה׃ (יט) וַאֲהַבְתֶּ֖ם אֶת־הַגֵּ֑ר כִּֽי־גֵרִ֥ים הֱיִיתֶ֖ם בְּאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם׃

(17) For the LORD your God is God supreme and Lord supreme, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who shows no favor and takes no bribe, (18) but upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and befriends the stranger, providing him with food and clothing.— (19) You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

1) What are we being asked to do in these verses, and why?

2) This is one of the sources that is referenced in texts that speak about the ways in which we might imitate God's attributes. What might taking on these characteristics look like in our lives?