Parshat Mishpatim: Strangers
וְגֵ֥ר לֹא־תוֹנֶ֖ה וְלֹ֣א תִלְחָצֶ֑נּוּ כִּֽי־גֵרִ֥ים הֱיִיתֶ֖ם בְּאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם׃
You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
For me, the most challenging part of the story out of Colleyville was that the hostage situation began with an act of loving-kindness. A stranger knocked at the door of the synagogue, and, appearing to be in great need, the Rabbi did what Abraham and Sarah would have done. Like the three angels that appeared before Abraham and Sarah, weary from the road, this man was given some respite in a safe and welcoming space. Unlike those three angels, this person intended only harm.
We are the people who welcome strangers. It is the mark of Abraham and Sarah, the very first Jews. In Rabbinic literature it is described as a mitzvah for which one reaps reward in both this world and the next. It is a mitzvah tied directly to the origin story of our people: We were strangers in Egypt. We know what it feels like to be cast out and destitute. Therefore, we actively seek to alleviate that experience for others.
After Colleyville, the desire to renounce this mitzvah is understandable. However, if we give up welcoming the stranger entirely, we reject a critical part of our identity. In the renewed talks about security, let’s not forget where we come from: a husband and wife who had a tent with walls open on all sides in order to welcome anyone who was in need.
Over time, we have needed to add walls. We have needed to add security cameras, reinforced doors, and security guards because there are those that wish us harm. Let’s pray that someday we can have a tent fully open again, and until then, keep those barriers from closing off our heart.