Commentary for Chayei Sarah

6 Nov

At the beginning of this week’s parshah, Abraham goes to purchase a grave for Sarah. When describing himself to the local realtors, he refers to himself as “a foreigner and a resident among you.” This is quite the shocking statement when we consider that Abraham has been living in Canaan for sixty-two years now. He has fought in local wars, amassed many followers to his new religion, and appears to be an important figure in the local economy. And yet even after sixty-two years of interacting with the Canaanites, he still feels compelled to call himself a stranger in their midst, and also feeling the need to assert that he lives here just like they do.

Many have identified Abraham’s self-description here with the plight of Jews throughout most of the past two millennia: Living on the same land as their non-Jewish countrymen, but always knowing that they are seen as different. Even when they take the same national pride in the government they live under, they are still aware that any feelings of unity or friendship with the non-Jewish majority can be made to disappear on the whims of those running the same government they support and take pride in.

 

Judaism, when it has been in power, has tried to take the opposite approach. We have the category of Geir Toshav (foreigner-resident), by which non-Jews living among Jews can agree to uphold seven Noachide Laws- the basic laws that Judaism requires of everyone, including setting up a just court system, and refraining from murder, sexual immorality, or eating blood-, as well as not doing such things as would perturb the community, like publicly blaspheming or denying God or violating Shabbat, and in exchange, they become a part of the community, to be treated no differently than anyone else, and with the community having the same Halachic obligation to help him or her in a time of need that they would have for a fellow Jew. Judaism, with its belief in the dignity of all human beings, recognizes the situation the absurdity of the situation that Abraham finds himself in- that after sixty-two years of involvement in his new community, that he still feels like an outsider- and creates situations to rectify it and to try to ensure that such a thing won’t happen under our watch.

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