Remember where you came from


By Rabbi Bruce Aft

This week’s Torah portion is Ki Teitzei: Deuteronomy 21:10 – 25:19.

Sometimes it is hard to remember from where we have come. We become successful and forget our roots and those events that have brought us to where we are today. In this week’s portion, we read the following:

“Do not despise an Edomite, because he is your brother. Do not despise the Egyptian because you were a stranger in his land.” (Deuteronomy 23:8).

Today, we hear a lot about immigration and know that there are strong perspectives about whether we should welcome people to the United States and, if so, how many should be allowed to enter.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes: “Jews cannot complain that others have racist attitudes toward them if they hold racist attitudes toward others. First correct yourself then [seek to] correct others,” says the Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Baba Metzia, 107B).

The wisdom of Moses’ command not to despise Egyptians still shines through today. If the people continued to hate their erstwhile oppressors, Moses would have taken the Israelites out of Egypt but would have failed to take Egypt out of the Israelites. They would still be slaves psychologically.

On Passover, we remember our collective experience as slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt. As descendants of people who were first welcomed, then enslaved, and finally liberated, we retell the story of our ancient exodus to freedom.

This week’s portion inspires us to think about own reaction to people who are seeking refuge in our land. Do we enact the biblical precept to love our neighbors as ourselves? Who do we consider to be our neighbors?

As we all wrestle with the political discussions about open borders and other issues, I am challenged by Rabbi Sacks’ comment that to be free we have to let go of hate. As I watch my friends and neighbors argue and, in many cases, express disdain for each other’s
comments, I can’t help but believe that we need to liberate ourselves from our slavery to our personal positions.

In their prayer “Listen,” rabbis Harold Kushner and Jack Riemer bring home the point that we need to be willing to listen to others:

On this Shabbat, O Lord, Sharpen our ability to hear.
May we hear the music of the world, and the infant’s cry, and the lover’s sigh.
May we hear the call for help of the lonely soul, and the sound of the breaking heart.
May we hear the words of our friends, and also their unspoken pleas and dreams.
May we hear within ourselves the yearnings that are struggling for expression.
May we hear You, O God.
For only if we hear You
Do we have the right to hope That You will hear us.
Hear the prayers we offer to You this day, O God, And may we hear them too.

As we prepare for the New Year, I hope that each of us will engage in open
discussion with those with whom we disagree.

Questions to ponder

Have you ever changed your opinion after being open to an honest discussion about a controversial issue? If so, what was the issue and what caused you to change your mind?

Talmudic discussions frequently result in majority and minority opinions. Are you willing to
accept an opinion with which we disagree as legitimate? Give examples and how we can learn from them to have more dialogue today.

Rabbi Bruce Aft has been the spiritual leader of Congregation Adat Reyim in Springfield for 28 years. He is a visiting scholar at George Mason University in the School of Conflict
Analysis and Resolution.

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