How Do We Love the Stranger?
1 א

(יז) כִּ֚י ה' 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׃ (כ)

(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.

2 ב

(ג) מִצְוָה עַל כָּל אָדָם לֶאֱהֹב אֶת כָּל אֶחָד וְאֶחָד מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל כְּגוּפוֹ שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ויקרא יט-יח) "וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ" . לְפִיכָךְ צָרִיךְ לְסַפֵּר בְּשִׁבְחוֹ וְלָחוּס עַל מָמוֹנוֹ כַּאֲשֶׁר הוּא חָס עַל מָמוֹן עַצְמוֹ וְרוֹצֶה בִּכְבוֹד עַצְמוֹ. וְהַמִּתְכַּבֵּד בִּקְלוֹן חֲבֵרוֹ אֵין לוֹ חֵלֶק לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא:

(ד) אַהֲבַת הַגֵּר שֶׁבָּא וְנִכְנָס תַּחַת כַּנְפֵי הַשְּׁכִינָה שְׁתֵּי מִצְוֹת עֲשֵׂה. אַחַת מִפְּנֵי שֶׁהוּא בִּכְלַל רֵעִים וְאַחַת מִפְּנֵי שֶׁהוּא גֵּר וְהַתּוֹרָה אָמְרָה (דברים י-יט) "וַאֲהַבְתֶּם אֶת הַגֵּר". צִוָּה עַל אַהֲבַת הַגֵּר כְּמוֹ שֶׁצִּוָּה עַל אַהֲבַת עַצְמוֹ שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים ו-ה) "וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת ה' אֱלֹקֶיךָ". הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא עַצְמוֹ אוֹהֵב גֵּרִים שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים י-יח) "וְאֹהֵב גֵּר":

(3) It is a commandment upon every person to love each and every Jew as himself, as it is said, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18)." Therefore one needs to speak praises of one and to be as careful with his money as one is with one's own money and desires his own honor. Whoever gains honor through diminishing his colleague has no portion in the world to come.

(4) The loving of a convert who came and entered under the wings of the Shekhina [comprises of] two positive commandments- one because he is in the general group of fellows [and we must love our fellow as ourselves], and one because he is a convert and the Torah said, "And you shall love the convert-" [Scripture] commanded regarding the love of the convert like [Scripture] commanded regarding the loving of Godself, as it said, "And you shall love Hashem your G-d;" the Holy One, Blessed be He, loves converts, as it is said, "And loving to the convert."

3 ג

() שלא ייקח כל שבט לוי חלק בביזה בשעת כיבוש הארץ, שנאמר "לא יהיה לכוהנים הלויים . . . חלק ונחלה" (דברים יח,א).

For the tribe of Levi not to take a portion of the spoils in the conquest of Eretz Yisrael, as [Deuteronomy 18:1] states: "The priests and the Levites shall not receive a portion or an inheri­tance."

4 ד

() לאהוב את הגר, שנאמר: "ואהבתם את הגר" (דברים י, יט).

To love the stranger, as it is written, "And you shall love the stranger" (Deut. 10:19)

5 ה

(כ) ...והנכון בעיני כי יאמר, לא תונה גר ולא תלחצנו ותחשבו שאין לו מציל מידך, כי אתה ידעת שהייתם גרים בארץ מצרים וראיתי את הלחץ אשר מצרים לוחצים אתכם ועשיתי בהם נקמה, כי אני רואה דמעת העשוקים אשר אין להם מנחם ומיד עושקיהם כח, ואני מציל כל אדם מיד חזק ממנו וכן האלמנה והיתום לא תענו כי אשמע צעקתם, שכל אלה אינם בוטחים בנפשם, ועלי יבטחו: ובפסוק האחר הוסיף טעם ואתם ידעתם את נפש הגר כי גרים הייתם בארץ מצרים (להלן כג ט) כלומר, ידעתם כי כל גר נפשו שפלה עליו והוא נאנח וצועק ועיניו תמיד אל ה' וירחם עליו כאשר רחם עליכם, כמו שכתוב (לעיל ב כג) ויאנחו בני ישראל מן העבודה ויצעקו ותעל שועתם אל האלקים מן העבודה. כלומר לא בזכותם רק שרחם עליהם מן העבודה:

(20) That which is correct in my eyes is that when it states, "do not oppress the stranger and do not harry him," you should think that he has no one to save him from your hand, since you know that you were strangers in the land of Egypt, and you saw the harrying that Egypt harried you and that I took vengeance for you, 'since I see see the tear of the oppressed who has no comforter and has no power from the hand of their oppressors' and I save every person 'from the hand of one stronger than he.' And so [too], do not afflict the widow and the orphan, since I hear their cries. As all of these do not rely on themselves and [so] upon Me do they rely. And in a different verse, it adds another reason (Exodus 23:9), "and you know the soul of a stranger, since you were strangers in the land of Egypt." This is to say, you know that the soul of any stranger is lowly towards himself, and he sighs and cries, and his eyes are always to God - and He will have mercy upon him, as He had mercy upon you, as it is written (Exodus 2:23), "and the Children of Israel sighed from the work and they cried out, and their prayer ascended to God, from the work." This is to say that not because of their merit [did God hear], but rather He had mercy upon them due to their burden.

6 ו

​R' Yitzchak Hutner (1906-1980), Pachad Yitzhak Pesach 8

1. There is certainly something in the Rambam’s words about which we should awaken ourselves, for he added these words: “God commanded us about loving the stranger just as God commanded us about loving Godself,” specifically with regard to the positive commandment to love converts. Why didn’t the Rambam add these words regarding the commandment to love our fellows? Likewise, how do we understand what he adds next, that “the Holy Blessed One Godself loves the stranger?” Aren’t these words meant to be understood as loving all Jews in general, for certainly the Holy Blessed One loves Israel!

It would seem that an explanation would work as follows: If Reuven hates Shimon, but Reuven does not know that Shimon is a Jew, but rather thinks he is a non-Jew, we would not say in this case that Reuven has inadvertantly committed the sin of hating his fellow Jew. In order to explicate this case, we need to look at the picture from the side of love: that is, if Reuven loves Shimon, and Shimon is in fact a Jew, but Reuven is mistaken and thinks Shimon is not a Jew, would we say that Reuven has fulfilled the commandment of loving his fellow Jew in this case? Of course not. For every love has a reason, and the reason for that love enters into the general commandment of loving one’s fellow.

That is to say, the commandment of loving one’s fellow does not extend to loving a person who happens to be a fellow Jew; rather, it means that we are to love a fellow Jew because they are a fellow Jew—in this way the reason for the mitzvah enters into the general rule of the mitzvah. This suggests that we should understand the mitzvah of “Love your kinsman” to mean: Love your neighbor precisely because they are your kinsman. And immediately we find that if Reuven loves another Jew but does not realize they are Jewish, the reason for his love is not on account of the other’s Jewishness, but rather his love is a general love, without the required reason for this mitzvah. And thus the mitzvah is not fulfilled in this case.

The same is true when it comes to hatred. Our interpretation of the verse, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart,” is that the fact of kinship should prevent you from the feeling of hatred towards him. And similarly, this reason of prevention of hatred enters into the general prohibition, and we thus find that if Reuven mistakes Shimon for a non-Jew, even though in fact Shimon is a Jew, nevertheless Reuven has not transgressed the prohibition of hating a fellow Jew, even unintentionally. For since Reuven lacks the awareness [that kinship exists between them], the essence of the sin is not present in this case, namely: allowing the hatred of a fellow Jew to overcome the restraining function that knowledge of their Jewishness is meant to perform. Thus, anytime this knowledge is missing, there is no basis to label it as a transgression at all, and the absence of knowledge is not a condition for categorizing the transgression as intentional or unintentional [as knowledge often is], since it is rather a condition of the transgression itself.

2. We find in many verses in the Torah that the stranger is grouped with the orphan and the widow as a single category. The common factor between them is they are abandoned and on their own. We can continue this line forward, and say that if our love of the stranger comes from the fact that they are alone and abandoned, such a love does not fulfill the commandment to love the stranger [emphasis in original – JF]. For as we explicated above, the reason for the love enters into the commandment itself, and the reason for the love of the stranger comes from their raising themselves up and coming under the wings of the divine presence, and not from their status as one who has no relatives to redeem them. And if the required reason for the love is missing, then the mitzvah cannot be fulfilled. This illuminates the words of the Rambam, who specifically added that we are commanded to love the stranger as we love God. In other words, just as the love of God is strictly a pure love, and not because we have compassion for God, so too the love of the stranger is not fulfilled if it is not a pure love.

And when the Rambam further adds that the Holy Blessed One Godself loves the stranger, he means to prove this fundamental point, for this is the language of the verse: “Who does justice for the orphan and the widow, and loves the stranger.” See that the stranger is clearly set apart from the orphan and the widow: In the case of the orphan and the widow, the verse says, “God does justice;” but in the case of the stranger, it specifically says, “God loves the stranger.” And if love of the stranger came about only because they are most in need of love, then the verse would not have needed to separate them from the widow and the orphan. This is what the Rambam means by saying that the Holy Blessed One Godself loves the stranger, on account of what we have seen here, that the idea of such love is reserved specifically for the stranger and not the orphan and widow. Thus we learn that love of strangers is a pure love.

3. Let us examine the Rambam’s sefer hamitzvot, negative commandment number 170, where he does not distinguish between the warning to the tribe of Levi not to take spoils in war, and the warning to the kohanim not to do the same. Since the entire tribe of Levi was warned, there is no need to distinguish the warning for the kohanim into a separate mitzvah—the kohanim are already included in the general warning. One of the great scholars of the previous generation was surprised at this: Why, he asked, did the Rambam count love of the stranger as a separate mitzvah from love of kinsmen in general? Isn’t it a similar case, in which converts should be subsumed within the general mitzvah? From what we’ve seen above, we can see that they are indeed two separate mitzvoth, with two different reasons behind them: love of fellow Jews is about the elevated status of Jews; love of converts is on account of their own elevated status, having come under the wings of the divine presence. And since they have different reasons, they are different types of love, and different commandments. Thus it makes perfect sense that the Rambam counted them as two separate mitzvoth.

4. In the Ramban’s commentary on the Torah, it appears that he understands the reason of loving the stranger as the fact that “God is close to the broken-hearted.” And, as is his method, he interprets the end of the verse, “For you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” But as for the Rambam in his Sefer HaMitzvot (positive commandment 207), who writes [in the Mishneh Torah] explicitly that the reason for the commandment to love the stranger is because the they have come under the wings of the divine presence: We must study much more how he would interpret, according to his thought, the end of the verse, “For you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

7 ז

Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind (2011), pp. 273-274; 310-311

[In a study led by neurobiologist Tania Singer,] subjects first played an economic game with two strangers, one of whom played nicely while the other played selfishly. In the next part of the study, subjects’ brains were scanned while mild electric shocks were delivered randomly to the hand of the subject, the hand of the nice player, or the hand of the selfish player. (The other players’ hands were visible to the subject, near her own while she was in the scanner.) Results showed that subjects’ brains responded in the same way when the ‘nice’ player received a shock as when they themselves were shocked. The subjects used their mirror neurons, empathized, and felt the other’s pain. But when the selfish player got a shock, people showed less empathy, and some even showed neural evidence of pleasure. In other words, people don’t just blindly empathize; they don’t sync up with everyone they see. We are conditional hive creatures. We are more likely to mirror and then empathize with others when they have conformed to our moral matrix than when they have violated it.

[According to Robert Putnam and David Campbell’s book, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us], “By many different measures religiously observant Americans are better neighbors and better citizens than secular Americans—they are more generous with their time and money, especially in helping the needy, and they are more active in community life.” Why are religious people better neighbors and citizens? To find out, Putnam and Campbell included on one of their surveys a long list of questions about religious beliefs (e.g. “Do you believe in hell? Do you agree that we will all be called before God to answer for our sins?”) as well as questions about religious practices (e.g., “How often do you read holy scriptures? How often do you pray?”). These beliefs and practices turned out to matter very little. Whether you believe in hell, whether you pray daily, whether you are a Catholic, Protestant, Jew, or Mormon… none of these things correlated with generosity. The only thing that reliably and powerfully associated with the moral benefits of religion was how enmeshed people were in relationships with their co-religionists. It’s the friendships and group activities, carried out within a moral matrix that emphasizes selflessness. That’s what brings out the best in people. Putnam and Campbell reject the New Atheist emphasis on belief and reach a conclusion straight out of Durkheim: ‘It is religious belongingness that matters for neighborliness, not religious believing.’