The Masorti Foundation for Conservative Judaism in Israel

Preparing for Pesach 5778

Give your Pesach observance,  so full of meaning every year, even more relevance.   Read  this powerful Teaching Guide shared with us by Rav Siach and the Masorti Movement in Israel. Use this to deepen your holiday celebration and bring some great conversation to your Seder table.

...Because You Were Slaves

A Limud (Teaching Guide) of Masorti Israel -The Rav Siach program

ְכ אזְָרח ִמ כםיְִהי ה ָל כם ַהֵגר ַהָגר ִאְת כםוְ ַהְבָתל ָכמ ך ִכי ֵגִרים ֱהיִי תם ְב א רץ ִמְצָריִם ֲאנִייְהוָה ֱא ֵהי כם.

The stranger among you shall be unto you as the home-born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.

Reflection Questions:

Why do you think the Torah ended this commandment with “I am Hashem, your God?”

Rashi on Leviticus 19:34

(1) “כי גרים הייתם” – מום שבך אל תאמר לחברך (2) “אני ה’ אלהיכם” – אלהיך ואלהיו אני.

For you were strangers: Do not mention the defect of your friend if it is also a defect that you share.

I am Hashem, your God: Your God and his [the stranger’s] God.

Reflection Questions:

How are you struck by Rashi’s explanation of why a Jew should not oppress the stranger?

What do Rashi’s comments add to the understanding of our relationship with the stranger and God’s relationship with the stranger?

What is the role of shared experience in dealing sensitively with others compared to the role of a universal understanding of human experience (we all share the same God)

Vayikra Rabbah 27:5

(ה) והאלהים יבקש את נרדף (קהלת ג): ר’ הונא בשם רב יוסף אמר: לעולם, והאלהים יבקש את נרדף. אתה מוצא צדיק רודף צדיק, והאלהים יבקש את נרדף. רשע רודף צדיק והאלהים יבקש את נרדף. רשע רודף רשע והאלהים יבקש את נרדף. אפילו צדיק רודף רשע, והאלהים יבקש את נרדף. מכל מקום והאלהים יבקש את נרדף. רבי יהודה ב”ר סימון אמר, בשם ר’ יוחנן, ב”ר נהוראי: לעולם הקב”ה תובע דמן של נרדפין מן הרודפין. תדע לך שכן הוא שכן הבל נרדף מפני קין ובחר הקדוש ברוך הוא בהבל, שנאמר (בראשית ד): וישע ה’ אל הבל ואל מנחתו. נח נרדף מפני דורו ולא בחר הקב”ה, אלא בנח, שנאמר (שם ז): כי אותך ראיתי צדיק לפני בדור הזה. אברהם נרדף מפני נמרוד, ובחר הקדוש ברוך הוא באברהם, שנאמר (נחמיה ט): אתה הוא ה’ האלהים אשר בחרת באברם. יצחק נרדף מפני פלשתים, ובחר הקב”ה ביצחק, שנאמר (בראשית כו): ראה ראינו כי היה ה’ עמך. יעקב נרדף מפני עשו, ובחר הקדוש ברוך הוא ביעקב, שנאמר (תהלים קלה): כי יעקב בחר לו יה. יוסף נרדף מפני אחיו, ובחר הקב”ה ביוסף, שנאמר (שם פא): עדות ביהוסף שמו. משה נרדף מפני פרעה, ובחר הקדוש ברוך הוא במשה, שנאמר (שם קו): לולי משה בחירו. דוד נרדף מפני שאול, ובחר הקב”ה בדוד, שנאמר: (שם עח): ויבחר בדוד עבדו. שאול נרדף מפני פלשתים, ובחר הקדוש ברוך הוא בשאול, שנאמר: (שמואל א יב): הראיתם אשר בחר בו ה’. ישראל נרדפין מפני האומות, ובחר הקב”ה בישראל, שנאמר (דברים יד): ובך בחר ה’ להיות לו לעם סגולה. רבי אליעזר ב”ר יוסי בן זמרא אמר: אף בקרבנות כך. אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא: שור נרדף

מפני ארי, עז נרדף מפני נמר, כבש מפני זאב, לא תקריבו לפני מן הרודפים, אלא מן הנרדפין, הדא הוא דכתיב (ויקרא כג): שור או כשב או עז כי יולד: [Translation is abbreviated, leaving out other examples of others who were pursued in Tanakh]

And God seeks those who are pursued (Eccl. 3:15).
Hashem demands repayment for the blood of the pursued at the hands of the pursuers. Abel was pursued by Cain and Hashem chose Abel. Noah was pursued by his generation, and Hashem chose Noah. Abraham was pursued by Nimrod, and Hashem chose Abraham. Isaac was pursued by the Philistines, and Hashem chose Isaac. Jacob was pursued by Esau, and the Holy
One chose Jacob. Joseph was pursued by his brothers, Hashem chose Joseph. Moses was pursued by Pharoah, David by Saul, but when Saul was pursued by the Philistines, and the Holy One chose Saul. Israel is pursued by the nations, and the Holy One chose Israel.

Reflection Questions:

What is this source’s perspective on looking out for those who are running away/ being pursued? Is there value/harm in always looking out primarily for the “pursued” and disadvantaged?

Excerpt of an article by Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks

I used to think that the most important line in the Bible was “Love your neighbour as yourself”. Then I realised that it is easy to love your neighbour because he or she is usually quite like yourself. What is hard is to love the stranger, one whose colour, culture or creed is different from yours. That is why the command, “Love the stranger because you were once strangers”, resonates so often throughout the Bible. It is summoning us now. A bold act of collective generosity will show that the world, particularly Europe, has learned the lesson of its own dark past and is willing to take a global lead in building a more hopeful future. Wars that cannot be won by weapons can sometimes be won by the sheer power of acts of humanitarian generosity to inspire the young to choose the way of peace instead of holy war.

Reflection Questions:

The text from Leviticus reads, “You shall love the stranger as yourself.” Is that any different from Rabbi Sacks’ quote, “you should love the stranger because you were once strangers? What does it mean to love the stranger as you love yourself?

Final Reflection Questions:

Based on these sources, what are the underlying reasons that Jews have an obligation to strangers in general and the influx of Syrian refugees in particular? Do you find the reasons compelling?

What do you think it means to “not oppress?”

These sources express that our narrative of oppression and redemption have a direct effect on our obligation to strangers. Should our past determine our future obligations?

Do you think the obligation of the State of Israel to refugees differs from that of the American Jewish community to refugees? Is the obligation different for non-Jewish nations?

45,711 refugees and asylum seekers live in Israel as of April 2015, of which 92% are from Eritrea or Sudan. They were forced to leave their homes and their countries to seek asylum in Israel due to persecution, civil wars, genocide and other horrors. Their situation and the relationship with the State is a complicated one. For further information about the relationship between these refugees and State of Israel, see the following resources:

Times of Israel: What Syrian Refugees Think of Israel

Download your own copy of the complete Limud/Teaching Guide here.

Now watch and share this powerful and heartwarming video by Israeli composer Alma Zohar.  It brings a core teaching to life with great poignancy.  Download the lyrics, in Hebrew and in English, here.

Exodus 23:9

 וְֵגר א ִתְלָחץוְַא תםיְַדְע תם אתנ פ ַהֵגר ִכי ֵגִרים ֱהיִי תם ְב א רץ ִמְצָריִם.

You shall not oppress the stranger; for you know the heart of a stranger, since you were strangers in the land of Egypt.