Finally - The Real Ger In Real Reality
Finally - The Real Ger In Real Reality
Rabbi David Katz
[***Class with Explanation to Follow]
[Motzie Shabbos, Israel 10 P.M.; Available For Download]
[Allow Ample Time To Adjust to Virtual Classroom; Limited Seating]
Parashas Mishpatim may be the most passionate Torah that one will encounter in the entire Chumash; after all, what would one expect after Mt. Sinai! In the Parsha, Hashem expresses Himself in a way that He seems to get personal; the widow, the orphan, Hashem’s “personal philosophy” [i.e. do not join an evil multitude – how pertinent not only of today, but for all of time - "Jewish (bad) politics"], and as always Hashem’s love affair with the Ger. [It is also worth mentioning that the Parsha contains a large quantity of the material that composes the juiciest sections of the Oral Torah, i.e. Bava Kama & blueprint for Shulchan Aruch.]
Once Mishpatim gets into full [Torah] steam, we quickly come upon not one, but two very explicit commands by Hashem, “Do not taunt the Ger” [Shemos 22:20, 23:9] – for you were Gerim in the Land of Egypt. To show how severe this seemingly benign passing phrase is, Rashi points out that this is a reference of caution when concerning the finances of the Ger, and to carry one’s self to the highest honor and responsibility concerning the Ger’s money. To put it simply, stealing is a no-no, and although this may sound like an obvious no-brainer, the depth that the Torah asks of us to understand why this is, will ultimately reveal the divine quality of the one called “Ger.” The question seems to always remain however, what is the Torah relationship between the Jew and the Ger?
The Torah in conjunction with Rabbinic writings offers a fascinating trail of breadcrumbs over a vast number of resources intricately piecing together exactly who is the Ger. And amidst understanding the Ger, it is inevitable to ponder upon who or what is a convert, along with where does idolatry come into the picture, and better yet, how does the Jew fit in and interact? The trail of perpetuating redemption ultimately starts with finding the needle in the haystack, but let us not lose sight of the goal -“Do not oppress/taunt the Ger.” Up until now the Torah has “Redeemed the Ger”; Post Sinai endeavors to keep it that way.
The proverbial needle in the haystack can be found in Devarim 24:14: “You shall not cheat the poor or destitute hired person AMONG YOUR BRETHREN, OR FROM ‘YOUR’ GER THAT IS IN YOUR LAND, [OR THE ONE] IN YOUR GATE.” It is upon this verse that the Talmud [Bava Metzia 111b; Tosfos] in beautiful fashion will set into a motion a short scavenger hunt that will leave us standing face to face with the Rambam, almost as if awaiting the verdict of the redeemability of the Ger. While the Rambam represents the par excel lance of defining the 613 Commandments, we must stand with trepidation over the Ger and his redemption, for without an established precedent of a revelation of “Ger Emet” [which is always a possibility in a game driven by Free Will], Man may stand to continue to do that which is evil in God’s eyes.
The Talmud [on Dev. 24:14] understands our verse in three very specific terms: “From your Brethren” – and not an idolater, “Your Ger” – Ger Tzedek [Righteous Ger], and “In Your Gates” – the Ger Toshav. From this short explanation by the Tosfos commentary [of which he says the engine that drives the entire concept must be the Ger Toshav, for we can learn each of the other two levels above and below him, only by concentrating on him] we have gained insight to the basic construct of the gentile world, and have objectively concluded the infamous debate of is a Ger a gentile or a convert, concluding that the Ger Tzedek is a gentile. But then Tosfos spoke a second time!
Tosfos [Talmud Commentator opposite Rashi on a standard Talmud page] continues his assault [on misperceptions of “Gerim”], and directly pushes the envelope, asking “what is the difference between the Ger Tzedek convert and the Ger Tzedek gentile?” [In today’s (“exiled”) Jewish world, the convert is the Ger Tzedek – exclusively, while the gentile is an extinct (and unknown) dinosaur.] His revelation through analysis in text is that there is a Ger Tzedek – gentile, and a Ger Tzedek – convert; resolving, “yes, this is difficult to ascertain, but it is your duty to know the difference when it comes up in text.” [paraphrased]
From the Babylonian Talmud we now leapfrog over to the Jerusalem Talmud, again within Bava Metzia [“the middle gate”] and we find a completely different spin placed on the same set of elements, this time by the rabbis in Israel.
For every step we took to define the Ger – gentile, the Jerusalem Talmud now says that the Ger Tzedek is in fact the convert to Judaism! The logic is quite simple: if we over advocate the gentile – Ger, what will be of those Gerim who actually did wish to sincerely convert? Thus the Talmud states the verse in Devarim [24:14] can equally be the convert, however they offer one last parting message before breaking the action – there is another verse in Vayikra – “do not withhold wages of your friend – to the exclusion of the Ger - gentile.” If we are to pay special attention to the symmetry in the two Talmud’s, we can learn from a “double negative” in the Jerusalem Talmud; the Ger - gentile is indeed not to be simply called “your friend” – for he is much more than this, he is your brother, back in conjunction to our previous Talmud, and now not at the expense of the Ger- convert.
At this stage of the “Pilpul” [spice of Torah, the main theme not only of the Torah of the Ger/Shem (son of Noach), but to the Parsha as well!], now it is just to ascertain, where do the levels fall into place practically of the Ger, convert, Jew, idolater, etc.? To put it simply, what constitutes the tone of the relationship according to the Torah, and such that it maintains its flavor of redemption?
The turbulence on the path of the sacred Ger, comes in the form of the disproportionate attention given to the Ger- convert [which we avoided in advocation of the Ger – gentile] as found in Vayikra 19:33-34, “…do not taunt the Ger …you shall love him like yourself.” This verse is one of the few places in the Torah that specifically is in reference of the convert to the exclusion of the Ger – gentile. The purpose of placing the term Ger upon him is as if to say, “just as you were a Ger and are no longer, having gone through Sinai, he too was a Ger, and no longer, having gone through conversion.” It should then be obvious [as in alignment with the Jerusalem Talmud version of Ger] that the Ger- convert is clearly included in the ever famous dictum [that incorporates the entire Torah] “Love your neighbor [friend] as yourself.” We thus remain with our same plight over the Ger, until Hashem personally comes to clarify matters.
In Devarim 10:18-19 it says of Hashem that “He Loves the Ger” and it is incumbent upon everyone to equally “Love the Ger.” It is here, that we are destined to collide with the Rambam and his discourse of the 613 Commandments, for the commentators all go quiet in the face of the Ger’s own experience of “standing before the splitting of the Sea.”
The Rambam states of Commandment #207: [I will provide translation and elucidation]
“We are commanded to Love the Gerim – even though he is included in the precept of loving your friend amongst all of Israel [which obviously the Rambam means that he is not Jewish here, i.e. a Ger Tzedek – gentile] that this Ger is a Ger Tzedek, that he is “like” Israel, and not “Israel” [the Tosfos commentary had explained the Ger Tzedek – gentile as your brother, but not in all of the Commandments, unlike the convert] – Hashem has added this command as this Ger has added himself to the study of God [דת ישראל] – we are warned, do not taunt him [again, this is not yet another mention for the convert, for he has his appropriate place] – and therefore must love him as a Ger and as your friend [This goes back on the Jerusalem Talmud that we learned he is more than your friend, he is your brother; thus now all the more so he is your friend, and this constitutes yet another bestowing of Love, showing the unique bond of the Ger and the Jew desired by God.]
The Rambam finishes by saying this commentary is uniform and is accepted by all; just as we have a unique command to Love Hashem, we must also love the Ger. [Showing that Hashem desires the command on Himself and the Ger; dear is the Ger to Hashem – for Hashem loves the Ger.]
We now are in a fantastic position to answer the underlying question of Mishpatim – can we taunt the Ger –gentile, take his money, not love him, etc. etc., because we choose to close our eyes and acknowledge only the Ger – convert? To call the Ger a convert IS a taunt to the convert, because he is not a ger, he is JEWISH, and this simultaneously takes away the merit and blessing found upon the Ger Tzedek gentile; two diminishments for the price of one!
We are made aware of the Ger Toshav first and foremost, and as the commentaries relate to us, he too is linked with the Ger Tzedek and enjoys a brotherhood status, to the obvious exclusion [and now obvious] idolater. The Ger is essentially linked to every foundational principle within the Torah; whether in economics, social justice, knowledge of God, etc., the Ger is integral in Dat Yisrael. For this, his redemption is imperative and must be perpetuated every generation, in much the same manner as each parsha has a subplot that sheds empathy for the Ger. It is not for naught that the Midrash Rabbah states, “for what does Melech Moshiach come to accomplish with his Talmud – to bring in [all] of the exiles [Jewish and non – Jewish; M.R.] and be a banner for the peoples, nations will seek him. For the wise and knowing heart this should suffice.