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Strangers in our Midst

January 24, 2014

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, January 24, 2014.

Strangers in our Midst

This week’s Torah Portion, “Mishpatim” (Laws) contains a blueprint for moral and responsible action that is commanded of the Israelites, who in last week’s Parashah received the Torah on Mount Sinai. It contains what could be the most significant commandment in forming the Jewish sense of Universalism:

"And a stranger shalt thou not oppress, for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing that ye were strangers in the land of Egypt" - Exodus 23: 9

This one brief verse gives us so much insight into what has been called the heart of the Torah. Maimonides, the great 12th Century Rabbi/Scientist/Philosopher tells us that there are two ways for us, as human beings, to understand Moral Action. The first way is Torah: The Torah tells us much moral truth and commands us to be moral. There is another way to derive moral action, however, which is universal, even among people who aren’t Jewish and among those who never even heard of the Torah and even among those who don’t believe that the Torah is God’s will: Logic. We can derive moral action logically. And, this commandment expects us to use logic. We were oppressed in Egypt. We know what oppression is. We can logically understand what oppression is by just thinking about what oppresses us.

The second universal aspect of this teaching is the essence of the commandment: treatment of “strangers.” What moral wisdom! We often distrust the stranger. We are told, however, that even the stranger, the foreigner, the different, are worthy of our respect. Morality isn’t only treating those like us with respect, it is treating EVERYONE with respect – even those who are entirely different from what we know and understand. Think of what this says about anti-Semitism, or bullying, or xenophobia, or homophobia, or misogyny, or elitism, or classism any of the other phobic ills of our society.

We must not oppress the strange and the different, for we too have been considered strange and different, and we know what it feels like to be the butt of unfounded hatred.

Shabbat Shalom