Remembering the Past

Among the many harsh and unforgiving commandments in this week’s Torah portion, few stand out as examples of the unheard-before fairness and respect towards the needy.

The mitzvot concerning the stranger, the orphan, the widow, and the destitute labourer protect the human rights of the extremely vulnerable people. The established society always falls in danger of neglecting the marginalized segments of the population. This marginality might stem from the unfavorable social or economic conditions influencing the people up to the point where they become the outcasts, doomed forever to exist in the invisible corners of the greater societal fabric.

We tend to avoid interactions with them out of the simple human fear dictating us to keep afar from the people who do not look or talk like us, from the people who are inherently different. Even if they come from our midst, the same fear rules over our actions since we understand that one day, purely circumstantially, we might become one of them.

However, the Torah specifically instructs us not only not to abuse those members of society but treat them with the utmost care and respect. Moreover, as Rashi explains in the commentary of Deuteronomy 24;14, the prohibition on withholding daily wages from the labourer concerns not only the poor workers but also the well-to-do hired staff.

Through the chapter, Torah constantly reminds us that such behaviour connects us with the remembrance of our Egyptian bondage. Living in the modern society, we might never experience poverty or hunger and deliberately avoid any contact with people living in such conditions. However, the Torah makes a point in reminding us whence did we come from. It ensures we not only remember our past but take action to protect those who need our care.

About the Author
Nelly Shulman is a journalist and writer currently based in Berlin. She is an author of four popular historical novels in the Russian language. She is working on the fifth novel in this series and on her first English-language novel, a historical thriller set during the Siege of Leningrad. She a Hawthornden Fellow and an alumna of the Nachum Goldmann Fellowship.
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