Lessons from the Land of Egypt
A story is told that when a gentile came to the great Hillel and said, “Teach me the entire Torah while I stand on one foot,” Hillel replied, “That which is hateful to you, do not do unto others. All the rest is commentary. Now go and learn!”
The Torah also commands us, v’ahavta l’ray-acha kamocha, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Pharaoh didn’t get either of those memos, so to speak, and the Israelites lived under Egyptian slavery and oppression for 400 years, a land where they were gerim, which we can translate as “strangers,” “resident aliens” or “immigrants.”
In addition to loving our neighbor, the Torah commands us to be sure to care for a variety of groups that had likely been marginalized in the ancient world; the poor, the orphan, the widow and the stranger. As just one example of many, Exodus 22:20 commands, “You shall not wrong a ger (stranger) nor shall you oppress him, for you were gerim (strangers) in the land of Egypt.”
How are we doing with this? Are we living up to the values and ethics laid out in the Torah about caring for others? If we have a widowed friend, do we include him or her in social activities where there are mostly couples? Do we allot sufficient tzedaka resources to organizations and agencies that support the poor among us, or do we pretend they’re not really there?
And what about the ger, the stranger, the person who is different from us? Immigration to the US began before the Mayflower brought the Pilgrims to Plymouth Rock because this “new world” was seen as a haven for those seeking everything from freedom from religious persecution to greater economic opportunity in an untapped land. The United States still has so much to offer residents and strangers alike. Together we made this country what it is, and I have no doubt that together we can form an even more perfect union.