At the beginning of this week we celebrated the 69th Intendance Day of the State of Israel. We have returned to the land the Jews have yearned for over many generations. Much longer than the forty years of dwelling in the desert by the Israelites on their way towards the Promised Land. This time we read, “When you enter the land…”, that is, what the Israelites have to do once entering the Promised Land. “plant all kinds of trees for food”, a command which has certainly been fulfilled.
Then, when reading further in the text, we find, “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.” Here, even though in modern days there may have been some goodwill, it is difficult to argue that these two were fully fulfilled. One demand is, “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you” – and this is the easy one of the two. Basically it is an external demand for equality. There is a much tougher demand that requires, “you shall love him as yourself” – this is more difficult to achieve, it requires something from the heart at the highest level possible. Even though he is a stranger, even though she is different, we must love them as we love ourselves. It goes way beyond the demand for equality, it goes much deeper and at times requires a profound mental strength.
It is easy to cast out the stranger in our land, surely in the very special and particular instance that we are experiencing here in Israel where our citizens come from all walks of life. These are not only Jews who returned back to their homeland from every imaginable corner of the world, but also those of other religions and nations. Some have arrived only recently, during the periods of Aliyah to Israel, others have lived here for much longer. Regardless, our command as Jews has nothing to do with the length of stay on the land, it is an absolute requirement on the way we must treat the foreigner, he who is a stranger and lives on our land. We have to be honest, we have to be decent, and we have to love.
The requirement of love means that we have to be with them not only in good times but also at times which are bad. It is easy to befriend and enjoy excellent humus, tasty Kanafeh, a cheap and reliable garage service, quality health care, or genuine black coffee. But that is not the real thing, not what really matters. Love must go way beyond that, demanding that we be with them also when it is difficult, not easy and even conflicts with our own celebrations, when we may feel very differently. The obligation of love requires us to understand their pain, respecting it, because this is what we would expect from others towards us. This must also be a non-selfish love, a love that does not expect anything in return, it must be a bond of love.
We are a People who knows all to well the meaning of being foreigners in lands not ours. Therefore we are required and committed to behave differently. When we do not do this we forget to command to remember, “you were aliens in the land of Egypt”! Just like the memories of the Holocaust must make certain that we act accordingly so that such disasters do not happen ever again, we are obligated to maintain this bond of love with the foreigner. We do not have a permission for excuses about it, excuses that push the responsibility to someone else. It is our responsibility, it is direct, it is continuous, and it is an integral part of our right to the Promised Land. It is a right that among others requires from us to love the stranger, the alien, the differrnt. Not only making them equal – but love.
Reuven Marko, 10 Iyar 5777, 5 May 2017