Welcoming the Stranger

“The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens. You shall love each one as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt; I am the Eternal your God.”
– Leviticus 19:33-34

Our Jewish self-identity revolves around our earliest roots as gerim, as strangers. The commandment not to oppress the stranger is repeated thirty-six times—the most often repeated commandment in the Torah. Our appreciation of this commandment is reenacted each Pesach as we retell of our Egyptian enslavement and also recalled every time we recite the kiddush, the blessing over the wine, thanking God for freeing us from Egyptian bondage. Moses even goes as far as to name his son Gershom, meaning “a stranger there.” Gershom stands as a powerful symbol of our mindfulness of this commandment.

I share all this because Temple Beth Or has made me feel like anything BUT a stranger. Before I even set foot inside the temple, I was welcomed and made to feel at home. Your hospitality, your caring and concern, your meals, and air mattresses, and furniture, and Pesach invites, and flowers have meant a tremendous amount to me. Todah Raba, thank you so very much for your generosity and care.

I can no longer claim my status of stranger, for this community has opened its doors wide in hospitality, but our Torah’s emphasis on this commandment leads us to wonder why God is so insistent. Rabbi Shlomo Riskin offers a beautiful interpretation. God hears the stranger because the Eternal – no less than Israel – is the consummate stranger, that which is wholly ‘other,’ Kadosh, forever apart and separate. God is ‘homeless’ in this world, waiting for us to repair our world so that the Shekhina may dwell amongst us. Only when we make this world into a loving home in which every human being can feel at peace, will God enter and feel at home as well.

May we always have the ability to reach out to the gerim in our midst and continue to have the strength to make our baytim, our homes, sanctuaries of warmth and openness as we seek to realize the words of our Torah.

– Rabbi Jessica Marshall