“The human capacity to injure other people is very great precisely because our capacity to imagine other people is very small.”
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.
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!
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?
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 http://rabbisacks.org/covenant- 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.
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
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.
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"?