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August 25, 2015 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Ki Teitze

“thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian, because thou were a stranger in his land” (Deut. 23:8).

Why should it matter that Jews were strangers in Egypt?  After all, the Egyptians oppressed us because we were strangers, so maybe this fact is an argument for abhorring Egyptians.

Nachmanides explains that this sentence really means that Egypt gave Israel’s ancestors hospitality in a time of famine.  In other words, because Egypt was nice to Israel at first, we should be grateful to Egypt for the good times (despite the bad times).  His emphasis on gratitude is relevant to us in our personal lives: even if we aren’t getting along with someone, we should be grateful for whatever they have done for us in the past.

More broadly, it relates to our relationship to other nations.  While some Jews (especially older ones) still abhor Germany because of the Shoah, this passage suggests that we should mitigate this fury by remembering that for a century before the Shoah, Germany was fairly good to the Jews.  In the 19th century, the Czar’s regime oppressed the Jews of Russia and Poland, and Germany was (in comparison) a place to escape from such oppression.

On the other hand, the Torah does not suggest that gratitude (at least not in this situation) should be absolute and unconditional.  It next states that Egyptian “children of the third generation that are born unto them may enter into the assembly of Hashem.”  (23:9).  According to Nachmanides, this means that if an Egyptian converts, his descendants are not fully accepted (whatever that means) until the third generation.  In other words, the Torah is telling us that Egyptian converts are not completely excluded (unlike Moabites and Ammonites, see 23:4) but are still means they are accepted less than men of nations who had not dealt harshly with Israel.   More broadly, it means that we can accept the good in people but still be a little cautious about them if they have dealt harshly with us.

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