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Love the Convert

Ekev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25 )

by Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen

The Torah commands us to love the convert, and it gives the reason that we should do so – because we were strangers (geirim) in the land of Egypt.  Two questions arise about this mitzvah. 

The first question is why should the fact that we were strangers in Egypt mean that we should love the convert.  Another question is that the convert is the only person that we are specifically commanded to love – there is of course the general mitzvah to love every Jew, but nobody else is singled out for love, even one’s parents[1] – why is this the case.  Indeed, the only other ‘Being’ that we are commanded to love is God Himself. 

By answering the first question of why we should love the convert because we were strangers ourselves, we can find the key to answering the other question as well.  The Ramban explains that we should be able to relate towards converts because we know the experience of being strangers in a foreign land.  According to the Ramban, it seems that the love we should feel is compassion to people who have undergone the very difficult situation of being strangers.   We can also understand why the convert is singled out to love, because he is in a unique situation of living among another nation – no other Jew, after the Exodus, can ever be in that situation, no matter what suffering he has undergone.

The implication of the Rambam is that he has a different approach:  He writes that the reason to love converts is that they came to dwell under the wings of the Divine Presence.[2]  The Sefer HaChinuch writes this more explicitly – he discusses the greatness of doing kindness for, “one who left his people and all the family of his father and mother, and came to dwell under the wings of another nation because of his love of it, and his choice of the truth and hatred of falsehood.”[3]   The Rambam and the Sefer HaChinuch appear to understand that the reason to love converts is not because of compassion for their difficult plight, but for their greatness in leaving their previous life to join the Jewish nation and serve God. 

How does their explanation fit with the Torah’s reason that one must love converts – that we were slaves in Egypt?  It seems that they would understand the Torah to mean that just as we know how difficult it is to be a stranger in a foreign nation, and yet these converts left their comfortable home and society to join a very different nation.

Regardless of how to read the verse, the approach of the Rambam and the Sefer HaChinuch teaches a highly instructive point – we are not commanded by the Torah to love our parents despite everything they have done for us, yet we are commanded to love converts.  This can be derived from the saying of the Sages that the completely righteous do not stand in the place of people who have sinned and repented (baalei teshuvah).  One explanation of this idea is based on Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler’s teaching of the free will point.  Rabbi Dessler teaches that every person is judged based on his personal background, talents, etc.  Accordingly, for example, a person born into a family of murderous criminals who refuses to kill despite tremendous peer pressure, while still being a thief[4], may subjectively be on a higher level than a Torah scholar who was born into a family of great Torah scholars.  This is because the thief climbed higher up his own personal ladder from his standing point, than did the Torah scholar. 

A non-Jew who is born into a society that has no connection to Torah and Mitzvot who finds the truth, and undertakes massive changes to his life, often at the expense of his relationship with his family and friend, has likely climbed more rungs of the ladder than anyone.

As is the case in all mitzvahs, the mitzvah to love the convert is not just a command that is meant to be blindly followed. Rather it is intended to change us as people.  This can be manifest in a number of ways: The Chinuch emphasizes that loving the ger inculcates us with positive character traits such as chessed and compassion.  However, one can add that, according to the reason of the Rambam and Chinuch for loving the ger we are being taught of the amazing quality of leaving everything behind for the sake of truth. This obviously applies to Jews who are not brought up observant, but at times it can also apply to all of us. 

There are inevitably times where there is considerable peer pressure to act in a certain way even if it may contradict the letter or spirit of the law.  And it is well-known that peer pressure is a very powerful force indeed. For example, if a group of people are speaking lashon hara, it is very hard to go against the group and speak up or even abruptly leave.  The example of the convert teaches that going against the flow is of such value that it is the basis of the only command to love a specific person. 

[1] The Rambam makes this very point in a Teshuva to a convert (Teshuvot HaRambam, Freiman edition, Siman 369). 

[2] Hilchot Deot, 6:4.

[3] Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzva 431.

[4] Needless to say, this does not justify wrong actions and in this-worldly judgment a person must be judged according to his objective action, regardless of his background.


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