Wednesday nights - Rav Benzion's Tanya shiur..........Please continue to daven for the good health of the Rebbe (Yechiel Michel ben Devorah Leah) and Rebbetzin (Feiga bas Sarah).

Friday, January 28, 2011

Mishpatim: I Want To Go Home

We all know of the mitzvah of Ahavas Yisroel: ואהבת לרעך כמוך - v’ahavta l’reacha kamocha. Like Hillel's instruction to the prospective convert, the basic definition of this love is, “Whatever you find distasteful to yourself, you should not do to another person”.

In Parshas Eikev (Devarim 10: 19), we find the commandment of ואהבתם את הגר - "You shall love the stranger, for you were strangers in Mitzrayim".

In this Parshas Mishpatim, this mitzvah is mentioned an additional two times:

וגר לא תונה ולא תלחצנו כי גרים הייתם בארץ מצרים -You shall not abuse a stranger and you shall not oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt (Shemos 22: 30).

וגר לא תלחץ ואתם ידעתם את נפש הגר כי גרים הייתם בארץ מצרים - You shall not oppress a stranger; you know the soul of the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt (ibid. 23: 9).

The Rambam makes it clear in addition to the mitzvah of Ahavas Yisroel which applies to all Jews, there is a second mitzvah in regards to a convert of  “v’ahavtem es ha’ger” and “v’ahavta lo kamocha” (Vayikra 19: 34). The implication from the Rambam is that it’s not just, “do unto the ger as you would have others do to you”, as it is by loving your fellow Jew. Rather, there is an additional aspect by a ger, a positive commandment to love him.

The first question is, why this extra emphasis on loving the ger, more so than on loving a Jew born Jew?

Secondly, the Torah gives us a very perplexing reason why we mustn’t oppress a ger: “You know the soul of the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt”. Thirty-five hundred years ago, we had grandparents who were in Mitzrayim; how does it follow that we would therefore know what it feels like to be a stranger? Which one of us has any sense of what it means to be a ger because our ancestors were geirim? You could say that to the first generation, but the Torah is timeless and forever, and the Torah is talking to us right now, who have been very comfortable and at home. (The truth is that anybody who has been exposed to anti-Semitism has a sense, but we don’t really understand what it’s like, and the reason is surely not because our bubbies and zeidies were in Mitzrayim thousands of years ago.)

In Parshas Lech Lecha, the Ribono shel Olam tells Avraham Avinu that he is going to father Klal Yisroel and that they will ultimately come to inherit the Land of Israel. Avraham’s response is: במה אדע, how will I know? I’m going father this special nation who will be Your special people and they’re going to inherit Eretz Yisroel, they’re going to be a mamleches kohanim v’goi kadosh. But there is choice. What’s the guarantee that my children are not going to choose to abandon Yiddishkeit and really will inherit the land?

We then have the Bris bein Habesarim where Hashem says: ידע תדע כי גר יהיה זרעך בארץ לא להם וכו' - "Know with certainty that your offspring shall be strangers in a land not their own" (Bereishis 15: 13). Here is the guarantee: Your children are always going to be strangers. They are going to be geirim even when they are living in Eretz Yisroel. They are going to be geirim wherever they are because the nature of the neshoma in this world is to be a ger. The natural place for the neshoma is with the Almighty, in the uppermost heavens. That is the only place where the neshoma is truly at home.

Klal Yisroel will always remain attached G-d, to Torah and mitzvos, matter where they are, no matter what generation, no matter how comfortable, no matter how rich - it doesn’t matter. Even if they’ll be in Eretz Yisroel, with "ish tachas gafno, ish tachas t’enaso", it’s not going to make any difference. For some reason, they will always feel, in this physical world, that this is not their place. The only time they will find themselves comfortable is when they find their place in Avodas Hashem, in Limud Hatorah, in Tefila, in Ma’asim Tovim. Klal Yisroel’s place, where they are not geirim, is in the Will of the Creator of he Universe.

Somehow, no matter what we try to do to get away from “Why do I feel so uneasy when I’m in a swimming pool in Acapulco?”, we can’t seem to shake that feeling. Why is Klal Yisroel so uneasy when they are surrounded by luxury and riches, no matter where they are? Why do they drift into drugs or run to the mountains of Tibet to try and learn from the Eastern myth? It’s because something inside of them says “I don’t belong here, I’ve got to find my roots”, but they are looking in the wrong places. So they have to shut the voice down by either drowning it in the pursuit of pleasure or power or money. Some of them drown it out with the pursuit of spirituality, but not a Jewish spirituality. Yet, they always remain somehow in a state of disquiet, of agitation.

Ultimately, that irritation leads them back because the only place where Klal Yisroel feels at home is when they are with the Ribono shel Olam and His service.

The definition in the soul of Yisroel, which every Jew for time immemorial up until the end of time is going to feel like a ger, was acquired in Mitzrayim. Once we left Mitzrayim, no matter where we were, we were strangers. Be it in the desert, Eretz Yisroel, Bavel, no matter where we find ourselves today, we are geirim.

That state of geirus brings us back to Avodas Hashem. Even those who are already into Avodas Hashem, but to the extent that each one of us wanders a little bit from that focus, there is something that says to us this doesn’t feel right. I feel like I’m not connected right now, I’m detached, I’m a stranger now, I’m not home. The only place where we really feel whole is when we are connected to the Ribono Shel Olam.

The Torah is telling us: Be very careful about how you treat a ger because you ARE a ger. Not because your zeidas were geirim. The reason you are a ger today is because your zeidas were gerim in Mitzrayim, but the gierus of “atem yodatem es nefesh hager - You know the soul of the ger” is right now! How is it that I know the ger right now? “For you were strangers in Egypt”. The definition happened in Mitzrayim, that’s where we became gerim, and consequently, there is a special mitzva of v’ahavta lo kamocha - Love the ger as yourself. Hashem is telling us that there is a special attention and an extra focus: You have a neshoma. That neshoma is your essence, and it is a stranger in this world. You like yourself. You have to like your neshoma even more, v’ahavta lo kamocha. Love your ger. Pay him attention. See to his needs.

There is a mitzvah by Klal Yisroel of Ahavas Yisroel: don’t do to somebody else what you wouldn’t want. But for the ger you have to go out of your way.

The ultimate objective of v’havtem es hager, is that through this mitzvah we realize that we have our own geirus, and that it’s our shoresh and our essence. We need to make sure we are paying all the attention we possibly can to that ger inside of us because that’s where we are really at.

When the Torah is telling us twice in Mishpatim, the idea is that we understand that that mitzvah is something that applies to each one of us, and if we understand it correctly then we will understand our own stats of frustration, of detachment, when we feel displaced, when we are lacking the right feelings of comfort and simcha, its all because the Almighty has given us that definition, the identity, that we are gerim in this world unless we root ourselves in avodas Hashem. Baruch Hamakom, the Almighty is the place, our makom, that is where we have a sense that we’ve come home.

May we all merit to come home, and the best way for this to happen is for the geula to take place so that everyone comes back to Eretz Yisroel and the Shechina HaKedosha will be back with us in the Beis Hamikdosh. Then, we will be home.

(Edited transcription from Mishpatim, 5766)

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