Parashat Eqev (5779 – 2019)
Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25
Our Torah portion contains, among so many others, these amazing verses:
“For the Eternal your Almighty God is the All Powerful of all powerful forces and the Master of all masters – the God Who is great, mighty and awesome, Who will never show favoritism nor take a bribe. Who makes sure of the fair judgment of the orphan and the widow, and loves the stranger, to give him bread and clothing. So shall you love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Have reverence for the Eternal you Almighty God, to serve Him, cleave to Him and swear in His Name.” (Deut. 10:17 – 20)
The first two verses describe God is a striking combination of seeming disparate terms. On the one hand, God is super mighty. This is a God, we are told, Who cannot be bought. But then God is described as very partial to the weak and marginal people of society. God cares so much about them that God will look out for them to make sure that justice is done on their behalf.
The next two verses turn to human beings, telling them what they must do. The order of the verses works in a chiastic form (a-b-b-a) whereby the marginal people of society are now to be our own concern, to the point that we must love them! And the last verse commands us to draw as near to God as we can, to the same God Who is beyond all forces and powers and Who is impartial and unmovable.
The contrasts multiply before us – between power and powerlessness, between the Divine and the human, between impassive justice and loving concern. We are meant to understand that God is able to meld these contrast together – and that we should strive to cling to God so that we may unite them as well, even as we unite with our Creator.
There is one specific point where these contrasts are brought together and resolved. This is in the command to love the stranger. It is horrible to contemplate how this mitzvah has become a renewed challenge for us these days, as we live under a regime that has sought to destroy our regard for the stranger, substituting fear and hatred for love and exchanging torture and murder in place of food and clothing.
In explaining what this mitzvah means, the 14th century Spanish book, Sefer Ha-Mitzvot points out that God wished to train us in compassion and in acts of lovingkindness. “We should learn from this to have compassion upon a person who is in a city that is not his birthplace and his own home, and we should not pass him by when we see him alone and far from any assistance.” (Mitzvah 529 ) Echoing Maimonides, the unknown author of this book teaches that our tradition goes out of its way to equate love of the stranger with love of God. One who turns away from the stranger, whether in cruelty, apathy or through self-serving excuses, is simply guilty of great disloyalty to God.
Rabbi David Greenstein
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Image: Children have been held in secret facilities by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, unbeknowst to their attorneys—in violation of U.S. law. (Photo: AP via CommonDreams.org)
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