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    Shielding the stranger – Mishpatim

    huggingEx. 22:20 is one of over thirty passages in the Torah which command us to look after the stranger because we were strangers in the land of Egypt (this happens to be one of the places where the Torah spells out the reason behind its laws).

    The word for a stranger is ger, which characteristically means a convert to Judaism. This is the view followed by Onkelos, who makes a distinction between giora, a convert, and dayyar, a dweller.

    What were we in Egypt? Dayyarim, people who lived there without accepting the local culture.

    There is an ethical duty to shield the dayyarim in our midst, though they do not fully accept every aspect of Judaism, which would make them gerim in the sense of converts. Ibn Ezra adds that they have to have respect for our ethos and not worship heathen idols.

    The question is why we should look after such people. Says Rashi, when you were strangers in Egypt you were weak and vulnerable, from which you should learn never to put other people in a weak or vulnerable position.

    Ramban adds a further idea, that when we were in Egypt no-one stuck up for us apart from God.

    Similarly, if there are strangers in our midst at any point in history they can depend on support from God – and if God is kind to strangers, how can we Jews do anything other than emulate the Almighty?

    In relation to converts, there still are Jews who have reservations about honouring and loving a ger.

    If only they realised how much moral (and sometimes physical) courage it takes to move from the dominant culture and find oneself a place in Judaism.

    What a paradox it is that some of the critics are weak in their own Jewish commitment, whilst we see converts become true towers of strength to their new faith and people.

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