Unstigmatizing the convert

Parshat Mishpatim


During one of the classes I teach on weeknights, our topic turned to the different kinds of love mentioned in the Torah. One insightful participant commented that if G-d tells us to look out for different kinds of people on account of His own personal feelings of love for them, we have an obligation to go above and beyond where our normal emotions take us.

In our efforts to emulate G-d, we are meant to copy His ways in our treatment of the orphan, the widow, the poor and the ger.

Shmot 22:20 states “ Do not hurt the feelings of a foreigner or oppress him for you were foreigners in Egypt.” Later on in the parsha, we hear (23:9), “ Do not oppress a foreigner. You know how it feels to be a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.”

The Sefer Hachinukh counts the instruction in 22:20 as two commandments — not to oppress the ger with words and not to oppress him with money.

Whether a ger refers to a convert or someone who is literally a foreigner who has come to live among you (Rashi) is a subject of debate. Regardless, the Torah’s point is minimally commanding us to respect persons of all different nationalities who want to live peaceably with the Jewish people.

This is a sentiment we can all appreciate.

The Or Hachaim warns Jews not to feel superior to converts on account of their not being direct descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. Isn’t it true that the direct descendants of the forefathers reached the lowest spiritual levels in the depravity of Egypt? No one can point fingers at the past without revealing skeletons in their own closets.

On the other side of the equation is the mitzvah to love the ger (Number 431 in Sefer HaChinukh), a concept that is repeated a few times in the Torah (Vayikra 19:34, Devarim 10:19).

One of the reasons the Sefer Hachinukh advances a tighter restriction against pursuing the ger’s money is because he, as a foreigner, has no close relatives to bail him out. Furthermore, we do not want him treated in a way that will cause him to return to his former ways.

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