Treating foreigners with respect

In Parshat Mishpatim (Shmot 22:20) we are commanded “You must not abuse or oppress the “ger”, stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Rashi explains that we should not verbally abuse the stranger and we should not rob him of his money. Rashi adds that the word “ger” refers to a person who was not born in that country but came from another land to reside there.

The Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 228:2 teaches that we must be careful how we treat strangers as we are warned over and over about this mitzvah to show how severe it is. Rabbi Eliezer HaGadol points out that there are 33 places in the Torah that remind us to treat the “ger” properly. Malbim counts 36.

As the Jewish people experienced being the “other” for so many years, starting from when Avraham arrived in the land of C’naan followed by Yitzchak’s visit to Grar, Yaakov’s time in Aram and B’nai Yisrael’s sojourn and slavery in Egypt, one would think that it would be obvious that we would know to treat strangers properly. As well, when the Jewish people were exiled of after the destruction of the First and Second Temples, we became strangers once again and we were persecuted throughout the ages. One would think that we would have learned our lesson.

Unfortunately, after all of the difficulties that we have experienced as a nation, we have still not learned our lesson. In Israel today, there are many foreign workers who are brought in to care for the elderly and to work in agriculture and construction. Many of these workers earn minimum wage and do not receive all of the same benefits as Israeli workers.

In the past, there were Israelis who complained that we should not bring in foreign workers as they are taking jobs away from Israelis who were unemployed. Because of these accusations, there was an experiment done to see if Israelis could handle these jobs which require a lot of manual labor. The Israelis who tried working as caregivers, as well as in the fields and in construction could not even last one day due to the taxing work. They begged to have a foreign worker take over for them.

Yet there are politicians who are trying to make it more difficult for the foreign workers by trying to take away their benefits or by taxing the owners of the fields who hire foreign workers. Instead of appreciating the fact that the foreign workers are filling a void, they are often being mistreated.

We must review the mitzvot pertaining to treating the stranger with respect and show our appreciation for those who dutifully care for our elderly residents, those who risk their lives to pick vegetables under constant threats of rocket fire and those who are endangered by difficult working conditions while trying to help us build up the State of Israel.

About the Author
Sharona holds a BA in Judaic Studies from Stern College and an MS in Jewish Education from Azrieli Graduate School, Yeshiva University. Sharona was the first Congregational Intern and Madricha Ruchanit at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, NY. After making aliya in 2004, Sharona founded Torat Reva Yerushalayim, a non profit organization based in Jerusalem which provides Torah study groups for students of all ages and backgrounds.
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