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Love the Convert

Acharei Mot-Kedoshim (Leviticus 16-20 )

by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek

This week's parshiyot include Kedoshim, which is a central parsha in the Torah. Rashi, in his first comment on the parsha, notes that most of the main concepts of the Torah are to be found in it. "Love thy neighbor" is here, as well as many other "mainstays" of Torat Hashem. We look at one of these verses which speaks of how we should relate to converts.

Leviticus 19:33-34

"When a convert ('ger') dwells among you in your land, do not taunt him. The convert who dwells with you shall be like a native among you and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers ('gerim') in the land of Egypt. I am Hashem, your God."



On verse 33 Rashi comments that a Jew should not taunt a convert by saying, "Recently you were an idol worshipper, and now you (have the audacity to) learn Torah which was given by the Holy One?"

On the next verse he comments:

For you were strangers - RASHI: A fault you have, don't accuse your friend [of having that fault].


Considering these two Rashi-comments, what would you ask about the Torah's logic here?

Your Question:



A Question: Rashi says the stranger ("ger") here is a convert to Judaism (not just a foreigner in the land). If this is what the verse is referring to, then how can the Jew, who resided in Egypt as a mere foreigner, be compared to the convert? Rashi says "A fault you have," the fault of the convert is his problematic past when he worshipped idols, but weren't the Jews in Egypt foreigners, not gentiles?

What kind of comparison is being made here? Can you answer this?

Your Answer:



An Answer: There are many Midrashim which tell us that the Jews in Egypt had plummeted to the penultimate level of impurity – the 49th level of Tuma. But a Midrash must have some Scriptural source or hint on which it bases itself. Where do we see that, in fact, the Jews in Egypt were themselves idol worshippers?

We have to go the prophet Ezekiel to see the explicit condemnation that in Egypt the Jews too were idol worshippers.

See Chapter 20 where Ezekiel gives a brief recounting of Israel's history. Over and over God makes His covenant with Israel, and over and over again Israel disappoints and breaks that covenant. Nevertheless, God saves Israel from utter destruction, because of His name's sake. That is because it would be a desecration for God, if Israel were destroyed and erased from the history books. What, the gentiles would ask, about His promise to Israel? Wouldn't it appear that their God could not save them? For this reason and for this reason only, God keeps His promise to us, even if we are not always deserving of it.

See Ezekiel 20: 6-8:

"On that day I lifted My hand unto them to bring them out of the land of Egypt into a land flowing with milk and honey...and I said 'Each man must throw away the detestable things and do not make yourselves impure with the idols of Egypt ... but they rebelled against Me and would not listen to Me. They did not throw away their detestable things, neither did they forsake the idols of Egypt..."

Clearly we see that the Jews themselves were idol worshippers in Egypt. Later, these same Jews came to receive God's Torah at Sinai.

Therefore, says the Torah, with Rashi's explanation, "your own fault – don't accuse others of having"!



Throughout the Torah and Tanach we are reminded that we are never to delude ourselves into thinking that we are better than the gentiles; that we are special in our behavior, that we are "holier than thou."

Unfortunately, we do not have much to show for our "perfect behavior." We have survived. God has stayed with us all these millennia, not because of our specialness, but because of His word. He will not break His promise, lest it teach the world that this is a Godless universe.


Shabbat Shalom,
Avigdor Bonchek

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