Parashat Mishpatim - Being a 'Buddy' to a Stranger by Bat Mitzvah Maddy Kristol
Who in here loves rules? I thought so.
My Torah portion Mishpatim, from the book of Exodus contains 53 commandments or mitzvot in it, more mitzvot than any other parashah in the book of Exodus. All the biblical stories so far in the Torah have been nice, but now it is time to create a Jewish society. This parashah is also known as “the book of the covenant” and it is mostly concerned with how Israelite society should function. So, we read about a lot of rules, and I have to be honest, I’m not too crazy about rules. But, there was one commandment that really struck a chord with me: how to treat strangers. The Torah mentions the rules about how to treat a stranger 36 times and 2 times in my torah portion. This rule is repeated more than any other rule in the Torah.
Exodus 22:20 states:
You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
What does it mean to be a stranger? The word for stranger in Hebrew is Ger. Rashi, the famous medieval commentator, defines Ger as a person who has not been born in that land where he is living but has come from another country to live there.
But, I believe, we can expand the definition of Ger or stranger to someone who is new to something, or someone who is alone. We all have felt like a stranger at some point. Think of your own life when you may have gone somewhere where you didn’t know anyone. Maybe it was your first time at a summer camp or if you’re an adult, going to a meeting where you didn’t know anyone there.
I want to share my experience of being a stranger with you. When I transferred schools from Omni Middle School to Donna Klein Jewish Academy, I felt nervous. I was worried about how to get around and I didn’t know anyone at the school.
What was amazing about the school was their Buddy program. A really kind and thoughtful mother and daughter contacted me and offered to meet me and my mom to buy my new school uniforms. I had no idea what I was supposed to wear. My buddy also helped me find my classes since I did not know where anything was. She also showed me how to use the technology that we use in the school. I felt so much better to have my buddy take me around. It was calming to know there was someone who wanted to be there to answer my questions and show me the ropes. It seemed that welcoming the stranger was a part of what people did at the school - an important value.
The commandment in our parashah is: “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
In his commentary, Rashi explains why we cannot wrong them. He states:
If you antagonize the stranger he can antagonize you back by saying to you: “You also descend from strangers”. Do not reproach your fellow-man for a fault which is also yours.”
In other words, as Jews, we remember that we were once strangers, and we keep that with us in order to make others feel welcome.
It is all of our responsibilities to help the stranger. Everyone must remember that she or he had the same experience of being a stranger, just like the Passover story. During Passover we retell the story of when the Jewish people were freed from slavery in Egypt. They had to leave their homes and go someplace new to start over as free people. They felt alone and scared. They too were strangers.
I think that the Jewish thing to do is to make sure that all immigrants or strangers have “Buddy Families” like I did. Then, they would have a guide to help them settle into a new home.
That’s why I am asking you to support the organization - HIAS - Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. HIAS was founded in New York City in the 1880’s when Jewish people were fleeing persecution in Russia and Eastern Europe, where my ancestors were from originally. HIAS helped Jewish immigrants with language barriers, find employment, get meals and more. Today, HIAS helps refugees from all over the world, no matter what ethnic background or religion, escape persecution and resettle safely.
I can’t think of a more important way to show my faith than to help those who feel alone, who can’t speak the language, who don’t know their way around, like I felt - and make them feel welcome, and a little less strange.
So I guess not all rules are so terrible, which is something I am learning as I become a Bat Mitzvah. I am learning the responsibility of caring and standing up for others, and I hope all of us can learn this lesson.