Refugees and Strangers: Imagining Other People

“The human capacity to injure other people is very great precisely because our capacity to imagine other people is very small.”

Elaine Scarry

אֱלֹקִ֣ים צְבָאוֹת֮ שֽׁ֫וּב־נָ֥א הַבֵּ֣ט מִשָּׁמַ֣יִם וּרְאֵ֑ה וּ֝פְקֹ֗ד גֶּ֣פֶן זֹֽאת׃
O God of hosts, turn again,
look down from heaven and see;
take note of that vine,
The Plague of Not Seeing One Another

(כא) וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יי אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֗ה נְטֵ֤ה יָֽדְךָ֙ עַל־הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וִ֥יהִי חֹ֖שֶׁךְ עַל־אֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם וְיָמֵ֖שׁ חֹֽשֶׁךְ׃ (כב) וַיֵּ֥ט מֹשֶׁ֛ה אֶת־יָד֖וֹ עַל־הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם וַיְהִ֧י חֹֽשֶׁךְ־אֲפֵלָ֛ה בְּכָל־אֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרַ֖יִם שְׁלֹ֥שֶׁת יָמִֽים׃ (כג) לֹֽא־רָא֞וּ אִ֣ישׁ אֶת־אָחִ֗יו וְלֹא־קָ֛מוּ אִ֥ישׁ מִתַּחְתָּ֖יו שְׁלֹ֣שֶׁת יָמִ֑ים וּֽלְכָל־בְּנֵ֧י יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל הָ֥יָה א֖וֹר בְּמוֹשְׁבֹתָֽם׃

YHWH said to Moshe: Stretch out your hand over the heavens, and let there be darkness over the land of Egypt; they will feel the darkness! Moshe stretched out his hand over the heavens, and there was thick darkness throughout all the land of Egypt, for three days, a man could not see his brother, and a man could not arise from his spot, for three days. But for all the Children of Israel, there was light in their settlements.

וימש חושך ויסיר את החשך הטבעי של לילה. כי אמנם חשך הלילה הוא אויר מוכן לקבל האור, והוא חשוך בהעדר האור בלבד. אמנם זה החשך יהיה אויר בלתי מוכן לקבל האור לרוב עביו, ולא יפול עליו העדד האור בהיותו בלתי מוכן אליו, ולפיכך לא ראו איש את אחיו כי לא הספיק לזה אור נר ואבוקה:

They will feel the darkness: In general, darkness is not a substance that can be felt; it is merely the absence of light. That is why light has the ability to banish darkness. However, the darkness in Egypt was a separate entity; one that was tangible -the darkness was felt. Thus, no light was able to banish it.

Even Ha-Ezel:

A man could not see his brother, and a man could not arise from his spot, for three days: The greatest darkness is when a person does not see his fellow, and does not participate in the distress of others. "A man could not see his brother" ––they did not feel the other's distress. Their senses were dulled - "a man could not rise from his spot." This is what our Sages meant when they stated in Exodus Rabbah that "the darkness was as thick as a golden denar" (a certain coin). Running after the golden denar increases one's egocentrism, dulls his eyes, and makes it difficult for him to feel the distress of others.

Eshkol Ma'amarim:

And there was thick darkness throughout all the land of Egypt, for three days: If a person does not see his fellow, or does not want to see him, there is darkness in the world.

Chidushei HaRan Al HaTorah 2:1:1:

A man could not see his brother: The darkness increased until no one could see another person, so no two people partnered together due to the great difficulty, as the verse says "no one saw their brother." This is the result: when I do not feel the pain of my friend, I dull my senses--as the verse says "no one was able to arise from under it" which means that there is no overcoming it.

Questions For Discussion:

1. What are the embodiments of darkness that prevent people from seeing one another?

1. What does darkness that is so thick, it can be felt, look like? What does it feel like?

2. How can we be a light that pushes away darkness?

4. What does the world look like when we don't see one another? How do we feel when we think that others don't see us?

We Were Once Strangers Too!

(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 יי אֱלֹקֵיכֶֽם׃

Now when there sojourns with you a sojourner in your land, you are not to oppress him; treat him like a native-born (citizen) among you. The sojourner that sojourns with you; be-loving to him (as one) like yourself, for sojourners were you in the land of Egypt. I am YHWH your God!

ואהבת לו כמוך: הגוים הקדמונים לא היו אוהבים רק את בני עמם, ולא היתה הונאת הנכרים נתעבת בעיניהם, לפיכך אמר כאן ואהבת לו כמוך, התנהג עמו כמו שתחפוץ שינהגו אחרים עמך אם היית גר, והוא על דרך מה שכתבתי למעלה (פסוק י"ח) על ואהבת לרעך כמוך.

LOVE HIM LIKE YOURSELF: The nations of the ancient world would only love their own people, and they would defraud other peoples because they saw them as despicable foreigners. Therefore, it says here, that you need to love him like yourself, and act toward him just as you would want. You should act towards him as you would want other people to act toward you if you were a foreigner. This is in accord with what is written several verses earlier (Leviticus 19:18): "Love your neighbor (re'ah) as yourself"

לא תונו. אוֹנָאַת דְּבָרִים; לֹא תֹאמַר לוֹ אֶמֶשׁ הָיִיתָ עוֹבֵד עֲ"זָ וְעַכְשָׁו אַתָּה בָא לִלְמוֹד תּוֹרָה שֶׁנִּתְּנָה מִפִּי הַגְּבוּרָה (בבא מציעא נ"ח):

לא תונו Do not oppress him:— This implies oppress him with words (cf. Rashi on Exodus 22:20) — do not say to him, “Yesterday you were an idol worshipper, and now you come to study the Torah which was given from the mouth of the Almighty!” (Sifra; Bava Metzia 58b, 59b.)

כי גרים הייתם. אִם הוֹנִיתוֹ, אַף הוּא יָכוֹל לְהוֹנוֹתְךָ וְלוֹמַר לְךָ, אַף אַתָּה מִגֵּרִים בָּאתָ, "מוּם שֶׁבְּךָ אַל תֹּאמַר לַחֲבֵרְךָ"; כָּל לְשׁוֹן גֵּר אָדָם שֶׁלֹּא נוֹלַד בְּאוֹתָהּ מְדִינָה, אֶלָּא בָּא מִמְּדִינָה אַחֶרֶת לָגוּר שָׁם:
כי גרים הייתם FOR YE WERE STRANGERS — If you vex him he can vex you also by saying to you: “You also descend from strangers”. Do not reproach thy fellow-man for a fault which is also thine (Mekhilta d'Rabbi Yishmael 22:20). Wherever גר occurs in Scriptures it signifies a person who has not been born in that land (where he is living) but has come from another country to sojourn there.
(ט) וְגֵ֖ר לֹ֣א תִלְחָ֑ץ וְאַתֶּ֗ם יְדַעְתֶּם֙ אֶת־נֶ֣פֶשׁ הַגֵּ֔ר כִּֽי־גֵרִ֥ים הֱיִיתֶ֖ם בְּאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם׃

A stranger, you are not to oppress: you yourselves know (well) the feelings of the sojourner, for sojourners were you in the land of Egypt.

(יט) וַאֲהַבְתֶּ֖ם אֶת־הַגֵּ֑ר כִּֽי־גֵרִ֥ים הֱיִיתֶ֖ם בְּאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם׃

(19) You should love the stranger; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

(ח) לֹֽא־תְתַעֵ֣ב אֲדֹמִ֔י כִּ֥י אָחִ֖יךָ ה֑וּא (ס) לֹא־תְתַעֵ֣ב מִצְרִ֔י כִּי־גֵ֖ר הָיִ֥יתָ בְאַרְצֽוֹ׃

You are not to hate an Edomite, for he is your brother; you are not to hate an Egyptian, for you were a sojourner in his land.

לא תתעב אדמי. לגמרי ואף על פי שראוי לך לתעבו שיצא בחרב לקראתך:

לא תתעב אדמי Do not hate an Edomite wholeheartedly, although it would be proper for you to hate him because he came out against you with the sword (Numbers 20:18—20).

Questions for Discussion

1. Why do the ancient Israelites place so much emphasis on the stranger (there are 36 separate commandments regarding the stranger)?

1. When and where have you felt like a stranger?

3. What does love for the stranger look like in a culture where the word "stranger" has somewhat of a negative connotation (i.e. stranger danger)?

4. Why should we be commanded not to hate those who are seemingly are enemies?

5. How did the Israelites think about their own security in relation to the values of welcoming the stranger? Does their view translate into the modern day?

How Do We Show Ourselves as Refugees from Egypt?

בכל דור ודור חיב אדם לראות את עצמו כאלו הוא יצא ממצרים, שנאמר (שמות יג), והגדת לבנך ביום ההוא לאמר, בעבור זה עשה יי לי בצאתי ממצרים.

In every generation we must see (lirot) ourselves as though we have personally gone out of Egypt, as it is said: “And you shall tell your son in that day, saying: ‘It is because of what Adonai did for me when I came forth out of Egypt.’”

(ו) בְּכָל דּוֹר וָדוֹר חַיָּב אָדָם לְהַרְאוֹת אֶת עַצְמוֹ כְּאִלּוּ הוּא בְּעַצְמוֹ יָצָא עַתָּה מִשִּׁעְבּוּד מִצְרַיִם

(6) In each and every generation, a man is required to show (l'harot) himself as though he himself went out now from the slavery of Egypt

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Faith in the Future, p.78:

The Hebrew Bible contains the great command, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Lev 19:18, #5), and

this has often been taken as the basis of biblical morality. But it is not: it is only part of it. The Jewish sages noted that on only one occasion does the Hebrew Bible command us to love our neighbour, but in thirty-seven places it commands us to love the stranger. Our neighbour is one we love because he is like ourselves. The stranger is one we are taught to love precisely because he is not like ourselves.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Loving the Stranger conversation-5768-mishpatim-loving-the-stranger/

You know the heart of the stranger because you were once a stranger in the land of Egypt. If you are human, so is he. If he is less than human, so are you. You must fight the hatred in your heart as I once fought the greatest ruler and the strongest empire in the ancient world on your behalf. I made you into the world’s archetypal strangers so that you would fight for the rights of strangers – for your own and those of others, wherever they are, whoever they are, whatever the color of their skin or the nature of their culture, because though they are not in your image – says G-d – they are nonetheless in Mine. There is only one reply strong enough to answer the question: Why should I not hate the stranger? Because the stranger is me.

תניא אידך אמר הקב"ה לתורה נעשה אדם אמרה לפניו רבונו של עולם האדם הזה קצר ימים ושבע רוגז ובא לידי חטא ואם אין ואתה מאריך אפך עמו הרי הוא כאלו לא בא לעולם אמר לה ועל חנם אני נקראתי ארך אפים ורב חסד. התחיל לקבץ עפרו מד' פנות העולם אדום שחור לבן ירקרק. אדום זה הדם שחור אלו הקרבים ירקרק זה הגוף. ולמה מד' פנות העולם שאם יבא מן המזרח למערב ויגיע קצן להפטר מן העולם שלא תאמר הארץ אין עפר גופך משלי חזור למקום שנבראת אלא כל מקום שאדם הולך משם הוא גופו ולשם הוא חוזר:

Another taught: "The holy blessed one said to the Torah: 'Let us make the human...' She [Torah] replied, 'This human will be short of days, full of conflict, and fall into the hands of sin. And even if you are patient with it, it will be as if it never came into the world.' God replied, 'Is it for naught that I am called 'slow to anger and full of compassion?' God gathered the dust [of the first human] from the four corners of the world - red, black, white and green. Red is the blood, black is the entrails and green for the body. Why from the four corners of the earth? So that if one comes from the east to the west and arrives at the end of her life as she neared departing from the world, the land will not say to her, "The dust of your body isn't mine. Go back to where you were created." Rather, every place a person goes, a part of them is from there and a part of them is returning there.

Until the End of Strangeness

"By harm she meant not only personal injury to the friend the lover the coworker the parent (the city the nation) but also the stranger; she meant particularly the stranger in all her or his difference, who, because we were strangers in Egypt, deserves special goodness for life or at least until the end of strangeness."

From Grace Paley, Midrash on Happiness

Grace Paley (December 11, 1922 – August 22, 2007) was an American short story author, poet, teacher, and political activist.

כי גרים הייתם - כמו שמפורש לפנינו ואתם ידעתם את נפש הגר. כי גרים הייתם - ולפי שצרתו מרובה עונשו מרובה.
כי גרים הייתם, due to your personal experience of such a status, you, better than anyone else, know that seeing that the oppression of strangers is a great wrong, the punishment for violating such a commandment is equally harsh. (compare Exodus 23,9)

On the Refugee Crisis by Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks

You would have to be less than human not to be moved by images of the refugee crisis threatening to overwhelm Europe: the scenes in Budapest, the 71 bodies found in the abandoned lorry in Austria, the 200 people drowned when their boat capsized off the coast in Libya and, most heartbreaking of all, the body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, lifeless on a Turkish shore: an image that will linger long in the mind as a symbol of a world gone mad.

This is the greatest humanitarian challenge faced by Europe in decades. Angela Merkel was not wrong when she said: “If Europe fails on the question of refugees, its close connection with universal civil rights will be destroyed.”...

...I used to think that the most important line in the Bible was “Love your neighbour as yourself”. Then I realised that it is easy to love your neighbour because he or she is usually quite like yourself. What is hard is to love the stranger, one whose colour, culture or creed is different from yours. That is why the command, “Love the stranger because you were once strangers”, resonates so often throughout the Bible. It is summoning us now... Wars that cannot be won by weapons can sometimes be won by the sheer power of acts of humanitarian generosity to inspire the young to choose the way of peace instead of holy war.

וגר. כאשר יקבל הגר שלא לעבוד עבודת כוכבים לא תונהו בארצך. בעבור שיש לך כח רב ממנו. וזכור כי גרים הייתם כמוהו. וכאשר הזכיר הגר שאין לו כח ככה היתום והאלמנה שהם ישראלים ואין להם כח. ואחר שאמר לא תענון לשון רבים. אמר אם תענה. כי כל רואה אדם שהוא מענה יתום ואלמנה ולא יעזרם גם הוא יחשב מענה:
AND A STRANGER. When a stranger commits himself not to worship idols you shall not wrong him in your country because you are more powerful than he is. Remember that you were strangers like him. When Scripture makes mention of the stranger who is powerless, it similarly takes note of the orphan and widow who are powerless Israelites. After saying lo te’annun (ye shall not afflict) (v. 21) which is in the plural, Scripture says im te’anneh (if thou afflict) (v. 22) because whoever sees a person afflicting the orphan and the widow and does not aid them, is also considered an afflicter.

Based on the commentators' explanations, how would you translate ger?

Who today qualifies as a ger ("stranger") in America? What special obligations does that status create?

Who today qualifies as a ger ("stranger") in Israel? What special obligations does that status create?

Thinking about legal immigrants, illegal immigrants, and refugees, which of them would be considered "strangers"?

וַאֲהַבְתֶּ֖ם אֶת־הַגֵּ֑ר כִּֽי־גֵרִ֥ים הֱיִיתֶ֖ם בְּאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם׃
You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
לֹא־תַסְגִּ֥יר עֶ֖בֶד אֶל־אֲדֹנָ֑יו אֲשֶׁר־יִנָּצֵ֥ל אֵלֶ֖יךָ מֵעִ֥ם אֲדֹנָֽיו׃ עִמְּךָ֞ יֵשֵׁ֣ב בְּקִרְבְּךָ֗ בַּמָּק֧וֹם אֲשֶׁר־יִבְחַ֛ר בְּאַחַ֥ד שְׁעָרֶ֖יךָ בַּטּ֣וֹב ל֑וֹ לֹ֖א תּוֹנֶֽנּוּ׃ {ס}
You shall not turn over to the master a slave who seeks refuge with you from that master. Such individuals shall live with you in any place they may choose among the settlements in your midst, wherever they please; you must not ill-treat them.
וְאָמַר רַבִּי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בֶּן לֵוִי אֵין עֶגְלָה עֲרוּפָה בָּאָה אֶלָּא בִּשְׁבִיל צָרֵי הָעַיִן שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר וְעָנוּ וְאָמְרוּ יָדֵינוּ לֹא שָׁפְכוּ אֶת הַדָּם הַזֶּה וְכִי עַל לִבֵּנוּ עָלְתָה שֶׁזִּקְנֵי בֵּית דִּין שׁוֹפְכֵי דָמִים הֵם אֶלָּא לֹא בָּא לְיָדֵינוּ וּפְטַרְנוּהוּ וְלֹא רְאִינוּהוּ וְהִנַּחְנוּהוּ לֹא בָּא לְיָדֵינוּ וּפְטַרְנוּהוּ בְּלֹא מְזוֹנוֹת לֹא רְאִינוּהוּ וְהִנַּחְנוּהוּ בְּלֹא לְוָיָיה
And Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says: When a person is found slain between two cities and it is not known who killed him, a heifer whose neck is broken is brought. This occurs only because of miserly people. As it is stated: “And they shall speak and say: Our hands have not shed this blood” (Deuteronomy 21:7). But did it enter our hearts to think that the Elders of the court are murderers? Why it is necessary for them to publicize that they did not kill him? Rather, they must declare: It is not so that this victim came to us and we dismissed him, and it is not so that we saw him and left him. In other words, he did not come to us and we in turn dismissed him without food, and we did not see him and then leave him without an escort. It is miserly people who do not provide others with food and cause them to travel to places where they might be murdered.
אָמַר רַב הוּנָא בְּרֵיהּ דְּרַב יְהוֹשֻׁעַ פְּשִׁיטָא לִי בַּר מָתָא אַבַּר מָתָא אַחֲרִיתִי מָצֵי מְעַכֵּב וְאִי שָׁיֵיךְ בִּכְרָגָא דְּהָכָא לָא מָצֵי מְעַכֵּב בַּר מְבוֹאָה אַבַּר מְבוֹאָה דְּנַפְשֵׁיהּ לָא מָצֵי מְעַכֵּב בָּעֵי רַב הוּנָא בְּרֵיהּ דְּרַב יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בַּר מְבוֹאָה אַבַּר מְבוֹאָה אַחֲרִינָא מַאי תֵּיקוּ אָמַר רַב יוֹסֵף וּמוֹדֵי רַב הוּנָא בְּמַקְרֵי דַרְדְּקֵי דְּלָא מָצֵי מְעַכֵּב דְּאָמַר מָר עֶזְרָא תִּיקֵּן לָהֶן לְיִשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁיְּהוּ מוֹשִׁיבִין סוֹפֵר בְּצַד סוֹפֵר
Rav Huna, son of Rav Yehoshua, says: It is obvious to me that a resident of one town can prevent a resident of another town from establishing a similar business in the locale of the first individual. But if he pays the tax of that first town, he cannot prevent him from doing business there, as he too is considered a resident of the town. The resident of an alleyway cannot prevent a resident of his alleyway from practicing a particular trade there, in accordance with the opinion of the Rabbis in the baraita, and contrary to the opinion of Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel. With these conclusions in mind, Rav Huna, son of Rav Yehoshua, raises a dilemma: With regard to a resident of one alleyway protesting about a resident of another alleyway conducting business there, what is the halakha? No answer was found, and the Gemara states that the dilemma shall stand unresolved. Rav Yosef said: And Rav Huna, who said that a resident of an alleyway can prevent another from setting up an additional mill, concedes with regard to those who teach children that one cannot prevent him from working, as the Master said: Ezra instituted an ordinance for the Jewish people requiring that they establish one teacher alongside another teacher, to raise the standard of teaching.

שאלה לא"א הרא"ש ז"ל יהודי שרוצה ללכת לכפר לדור שם להרויח וא"ל אנשי אותו כפר קמפסדת לחיותינו ורוצים להרחיקו מעל גבולם. תשובה אין יכולין למנעו דלא קאמר תלמודא אלא אדם הדר בעיר הזאת ובא להעמיד רחיים או חנות במקום אחר ואינו שייך במס שלהם יכולין בני אותה העיר לעכב עליו אבל דבר פשוט הוא שאדם יכול לגור בכל מקום שירצה ואין בני העיר יכולין לעכב עליו וכי קנו אותו הראשונים בחזקה:

15. A question to my lord and father the Rosh: A Jew who wants to go to a town to live there to earn money. And the people of the town say, “You are decreasing our livelihood,” and wish to distance him from their border.

Answer: They cannot prevent them for the Talmud only talks about a person who lives in a different town and is coming to set up a mill or a store in a different place and they are not included in their tax, the citizens of that town can prevent them, but it is an obvious thing that a person can live wherever they want and the citizens of the town cannot prevent them. Did the original settlers acquire the land through legal purchase?