Sunday, June 8, 2014

Parashas Nasso: The Hidden Ger

                                                Parashas Nasso
                                The Last Place You Look For Gerim
                                              Rabbi David Katz

In Parashas Nasso one would be hard-pressed to find the Universal Torah theme in a revealed state, as the Parasha would seem to be completely devoid of content of this nature. Sure the Parasha is interesting, as one can trek through Levite labor [which is uniquely appointed through one's prophetic name meaning and inherent gematria much like that which was publicized in Bamidbar], or onwards through the Sotah waters, before encountering our Samson-esque Nazarite! Yet when all of the dust settles after journeying through the Nasso text, upon concluding with the dedication of the Altar of the Tabernacle [and after having proven through the Gershonites that names reveal one's soul's mission/purpose - and can even reveal what God will do to a generation through the infamous "census" - for a collective of names reveals the Divine Providence of the generation], there seems to be no Ger in sight....except for one place - "Gezel HaGer" [stealing from the Ger], which isn't even written in the Torah explicitly!

When we look to Bamidbar 5:6 in a passage that deals with treachery to God, namely over financial matters between Jews, it can be seen that there is a much deeper focus here than a simple debate over misappropriated funds. The commentator Rashi shows that there are two essential matters here: admitting the crime and its atonement, and in a unique case where the victim has died and has no kin, the Torah instructs how to proceed with vindication procedures. To put the latter in the simplest terms, it seems everyone in the World except for the Torah itself is on this not so secretive secret, in that this is a direct implication for Gerim, who would be the most obvious to be without kin due to the very nature of being a Ger and the severing of gentile ties that it requires. To put this matter simply, the Torah makes no mention of "Gezel HaGer", but fear not, for the Oral Torah picks up right where the Torah's assist was intended to go. There are many flavors to this off-beat Torah concept, ranging from the halachic to the conceptual; yet the spiritual jackpot on this matter is the Midrash Rabbah. Oh yes, the Midrash Rabbah of Parashas Nasso; just have a look if you may, see for yourself, and prepare for its give or take of 100 pages that echo and howl of sublime  Ger Torah.

Amazingly, in the Midrash, what seemed from the Torah to be a passing Rashi of very little importance, in a random and little-well known halachic issue, we find a massive issue of Gezel HaGer - stealing from a Ger. One would obviously expect to see a lite Midrashic discourse shedding some much needed background about our friend the Ger, but what happens instead literally blows the mind of any reader who is at least half-interested in Ger material. A 100-page onslaught of Ger Torah, that is so revolutionary in its content, one must give due credit to this dearth in everyday Torah knowledge to the power of denial. For should one sift through the ink and fathom what is being said of the Ger - non- convert, the cognitive dissonance alone could precipitate a Messianic response. The wisdom contained in the Gezel HaGer material is that potent indeed, and for good reason - as Hashem loves the Ger, and therefore stealing from him outright is stealing from Him.

As there are obviously many, many insights one could go into on these matters, I will present a few of the ideas that struck me the hardest and in a way that I feel is most relevant in service and mind today.

The portion of Gezel HaGer ends off with a passing mention of the holiness involved with the procedure, namely through the Priest who gets involved should the Ger have no kin. The Midrash then claims that the Ger has a stranglehold on two key issues that are vital signs for Gerim: his need for Torah and his ability to don a Talit. Many Gerim today wish to do both, and as much as Torah is a more known commodity to the Ger, the Talit is a new angle brought by the Midrash. Although there is/was already a strong precedent to grace a Talit up to now, the Midrash makes this endeavor far more secured and in the most opportune time, of the Gezel HaGer passage [that serves to strengthen the Love of the Ger].

Another unique angle is discussed over the Noahide Laws themselves. In many works, most leaning towards the ancient feel [Zohar for example], take issue with what the Noahide tradition [and its Laws] actually are; the topics range from philosophy, literal, law, historical, Kabbalistic, etc. The Midrash seems to imply that their existence stems from a supremely practical sense, and yet in a way that really includes all of the above views. This is possible by relating to the Laws as the mechanism to become impure with Tzaaras. The Midrash gives 11 ways to become impure, and as we know from the Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin, there are many views as to the exact nature of the Noahide Laws in number and in concept. In the details of the Midrash, the 11 can very easily become 7 through a "main pillar" system with some pillars having sub-extensions [in Torah this is called Avos and Toldos; First and Second Tier. Literally "Fathers" and Offspring"], thus creating a system that we recognize. The goal of such a system would be that pre-Sinai there would have been scenarios of impurity, and for this we have Shem who was a functioning Priest, as the Torah of today prescribes for these matters. Through an indoctrination of Torah, the Gentile World can thus become ritually impure through the Noahide Laws, and thereby leaving behind a gentile status for a Torah status of Ger., and thus becoming available to a Torah lifestyle. One can't help but think of the ironic anti-logical Red Heifer ashes in these matters that function in a similar vein; one should also realize that the Red Heifer's ashes do in fact include the Ger [as the verse itself dictates by the Red Heifer's command], and this is how the Ger is able to enter the Temple. Thus the Ger who operates within boundary of pure/impure states is by definition no longer fully gentile; the Midrash apropos brings  Naaman and his Tzaraas to prove its point.

The final example of The Ger in the Parasha that turns heads is with the waters of the Sotah; the suspected infidelity of one's wife. The Talmud and selected other sources form a united front in discussing the Sotah waters in context of the Ger. In what is a most interesting learning, it turns out the Ger is actually 100% a part of the waters of the Sotah, should one suspect his wife of committing a crime. The Rabbis officiating the passage gives their views, and resolve that in several types of relationships, should there be a Ger involved, she is to drink. Yet it is the arguing view that turns the most heads on this! For the famous Gerim Shamayah and Avtalyon were a strong force to push this law through, simply to strengthen the Ger women, in accordance with a plain logical claim that this is indeed the truth. The opposing Rabbi battled and lost, and consequently was placed in ban. The reason for the harsh penalty against him, is because his view of law was wrong, sought to place the correct law in a dimmed if not darkened light, discredit its advocators, and all of this came under the pretense that most of its relevance is simply not done in Israel "today." Although this is true that the practices of the Sotah would not be available today, and that is not to mention the Sotah itself [is not done today, and hasn't been for some time], however to blot out a Torah Law for its innate discomfort that it may arouse upon the reader, does not qualify as a reason to desecrate the Torah.

Thus we have explored some of the Torah's greatest vantage points of the Ger; all through Gezel HaGer. The Midrash offers seemingly endless examples and new twists and turns of the Ger in ways that are simply not learned or even worse brazenly ignored. There is method to the madness, as to why the Ger has his turmoil, and it should not be seen as an accident that the discussion takes place in such a provocative place for the Ger - where his very dignity comes under fire in Nasso. Yet we are on the brink of historic times, as some feel very strongly that we are on the verge of Messianic transition in our society, one that is sure to come with trials and the severe [and promised] "Birth pangs of Redemption." Dealing with a new generation of Gerim that have seemingly spawned from thin air, has the religious communities of every type on edge and feeling very insecure. The greatest enemy of all is neither Jew nor Gentile [or Ger for that matter], but rather the discomfort that overtakes a person to fully absorb and reciprocate a relationship of a new found Ger [after a 2,000 year gap of his existence].

In closing, if this is the worst of our Messianic birth pains, then we did something right in the eyes of God, for it could have been much, much worse. The moral of the story is to once again be reminded of the Love for the Ger, for God loves the Ger...and to rob H(h)im of anything is a serious offense in the eyes of God, and those are watching very closely when it comes to that which He loves. He loves the Ger, and we are commanded likewise; for to forsake this love from discomfort is a travesty that is antithetical to the Torah. If you notice, the bond between each idea presented here is the concept of "being Holy" - as Hashem says, "I am Holy, thus you should be Holy." 

Perhaps we should all as a Human race reconnect to that which is truly Holy; and there is nothing Holier than a World filled with Prophecy pouring out of Zion with the Presence of God resting on Earth. In that sense, we are all Gerim to God, and the Torah confirms as much; all that is left from that point onwards, is to simply Love the Ger, Love him as yourself, and realize that there is no difference in those words.

Video class: Sweet Waters Of Gerim


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