In this contentious campaign season we continue to be bombarded by unbridled anger and malicious invective against foreigners, immigrants, Muslims and Mexicans, and anyone else who might fall into the category of “other,” in the eyes of Mr. Trump. As Americans, we must reject this pernicious xenophobia. As Jews, we view this mindset as particularly repugnant, and our approaching celebration of Shavuot, this Saturday night and Sunday, makes that palpably clear.
On this holiday we will read the Scroll of Ruth, along with the Ten Commandments of the Torah. We recall that Ruth was a young Moabite woman, who married a Jewish man in Bethlehem. But there was a famine in the Land, and Ruth’s husband died, along with his father, and brother, and many others. Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi released her from any obligation she may have felt to remain among the Jews, and tried to send her back to Moab to rejoin her people. But Ruth refused. Instead, she chose to remain with Naomi and her community, and thus cast in her lot with the People of Israel. In so doing, Ruth became the paradigmatic convert – the first official Jew-By-Choice. Her reward was to remarry within the Tribe of Judah, and ultimately become the great-grandmother of none other than King David. And since tradition held that the Messiah would hail from the House of David, Ruth, the Jew-By-Choice, became the progenitor of the Messiah.
This Saturday night, on Shavuot, we will join together with Jews all over the world as symbolically we return to that moment when we stood together at Sinai. Once again we will take upon ourselves the Torah, and its teachings of justice, fairness, honor and compassion. Among the most oft-repeated of our ethical obligations regards our treatment of those who are not native-born among us – gerim – “strangers.”
(Exodus 22.20) You shall not wrong nor oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
(Exodus 23:9) You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.
(Leviticus 19:10) You shall not pick your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger; I the Eternal am your God.
(Leviticus 19:33-34) When strangers reside with you in your land, you shall not wrong them. The strangers who reside with you shall be to you as your citizens; you shall love each on as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt; I the Eternal am your God.
No fewer than 36 times does the Torah admonish us to treat the strangers in our midst with fairness and kindness, “for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
The majesty of the Scroll of Ruth, even though only four chapters long, consists in its eloquent testimonial to the humanity of those who are newcomers to our community, and the humanity that we ourselves possess. My teacher Rabbi Professor David Hartman, z”l, characterized the Scroll of Ruth as “anti-racist,” reminding us of “the sacredness of human life. . . . God believes in the capacity of humanity to live by values. . . .” Further, Rabbi Hartman taught, “We have certain demands upon us; an obligation to values that are intrinsically worthwhile.”
And so on this coming Eve of Shavuot, as symbolically we stand together at Sinai, we remember those demands and return to those values; and optimally, go on to teach them and promote them, so that the world will be lifted up by them.