Stronger than Hate: Hayei Sarah 5779

Stronger than HateThe first thing we saw upon landing in Pittsburgh today was the instantly iconic transformation of the Steelers’ logo to integrate a yellow Magen David and the phrase, “Stronger than Hate.” The three diamonds were originally part of the US Steel logo, with yellow for coal, orange for iron ore and blue for steel scrap—the three ingredients of steel—and they represented the great power of an alloy. What a wonderful metaphor for a community that draws strength from its diversity. And what a tikkun, or repair, for the yellow star as a symbol of Jewish otherness, the medieval mark that designated our people for abuse and extermination. The Jewish star, combined with other elements, becomes a symbol of power sufficient to stop even the most lethally armed haters (see interview with creator Tim Hindes for more).

Our JTS delegation came with our own treasured art—dozens of drawings made by the children of Corpus Christi on 121 ST sent as expressions of love and comfort to the Jews of Pittsburgh. These cards will be shared with Jewish day school children in Pittsburgh, creating a network of compassion, an alloy of affiliation, a generation of children taught to value each other in their difference. As one poster put it, “Love thy neighbor—no exceptions.”

This brings us to our portion, Chayei Sarah, and its extended motif of the vulnerabilities of newcomers to town. The theme is announced by Abraham, I am a stranger and a resident among you (גֵּר וְתוֹשָׁב אָנֹכִי עִמָּכֶם). With these words he describes the predicament that his descendants, and all immigrants, have frequently felt in the subsequent millennia. He is in an especially vulnerable state, weeping for his lost life-partner Sarah, and without title to a place for her (and his) dignified burial. With dignity he asserts the significance of residency—I live here, just like you do—and my family has the right to live and to be buried—in this place, just like you.

Yet with realism he also acknowledges his dependence on their good will. It is a tight spot to occupy, and Abraham does his best to improve his status from tenant to owner. He is even willing to pay an exorbitant fee to gain title and thus permanent status in this society.  The Torah returns to this theme of resident-aliens and their susceptibility to abuse by their better established neighbors. For this reason in Leviticus it repeats the same phrase גר ותושב, but this time the Israelite is addressed as the establishment, and the stranger is a poor person who is indebted. Do not charge them interest—strengthen their hand so that they may live with you. Rabbi Akiva later used this phrase to say that “your life comes first,” but Rambam cited it to explain the laws of Tzeddakah—helping a poor person become independent fulfills the command of allowing the resident alient to “live with you.” (See Tur’s version below).

Our parashah returns again to the theme of vulnerable strangers when Abraham’s servant arrives in Padan Aram to seek a wife for Isaac. Rebecca distinguishes herself by her compassion for the stranger, and this becomes a leitmotif for the people (and especially the women) of Israel. A generation later Jacob will be welcomed, but then abused by Laban, who cheats him of his wages. Here again, a Genesis narrative resurfaces in legislation later in Leviticus, warning Israelites not to steal the wages of their vulnerable employees.

The through-line of vulnerability being met by compassion and responsibility continues into the words of the Sages. For example, Tosefta Bava Metzia states that wage theft violates five separate mitzvot. The point requires emphasis because it is so tempting to ignore. When one person or people has power, the ability to take advantage of others is often irresistible. Through the narratives of our ancestors, the commands of the Torah, and the laws of the rabbis, Judaism demands that we establish social solidarity. As the sages say in Mekhilta (and later in the minor tractate Gerim–strangers), Abraham called himself a stranger, David called himself a stranger, and the entire nation is known as strangers.

There is much more to say, but in the end our actions must speak louder than words. Last Shabbat a hateful person channeled the xenophobic rhetoric of our times into lethal violence, robbing the world of eleven precious people. There are many more like this man. But even if they try, the power of compassion remains far greater than their power of hate. We have learned this lesson from the Torah and the Sages of Israel, and we have seen it expressed in our own time. We are all potentially strangers, but we are capable of becoming like siblings. This is not just a good idea but a command. Social solidarity is the foundation of a decent society. We can and we will persist until decency is not a pious aspiration but a reliable value. This is what strength looks like—may we be blessed with a strong and peaceful Shabbat.

בראשית פרק כג, ג-ז

(ג) וַיָּקָם אַבְרָהָם מֵעַל פְּנֵי מֵתוֹ וַיְדַבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי חֵת לֵאמֹר: (ד) גֵּר וְתוֹשָׁב אָנֹכִי עִמָּכֶם תְּנוּ לִי אֲחֻזַּת קֶבֶר עִמָּכֶם וְאֶקְבְּרָה מֵתִי מִלְּפָנָי: (ה) וַיַּעֲנוּ בְנֵי חֵת אֶת אַבְרָהָם לֵאמֹר לוֹ: (ו) שְׁמָעֵנוּ אֲדֹנִי נְשִׂיא אֱלֹהִים אַתָּה בְּתוֹכֵנוּ בְּמִבְחַר קְבָרֵינוּ קְבֹר אֶת  מֵתֶךָ אִישׁ מִמֶּנּוּ אֶת קִבְרוֹ לֹא יִכְלֶה מִמְּךָ מִקְּבֹר מֵתֶךָ: (ז) וַיָּקָם אַבְרָהָם וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ לְעַם הָאָרֶץ לִבְנֵי חֵת:

ויקרא פרק כה, לה-לח

(לה) וְכִי יָמוּךְ אָחִיךָ וּמָטָה יָדוֹ עִמָּךְ וְהֶחֱזַקְתָּ בּוֹ גֵּר וְתוֹשָׁב וָחַי עִמָּךְ: (לו) אַל תִּקַּח מֵאִתּוֹ נֶשֶׁךְ וְתַרְבִּית וְיָרֵאתָ מֵאֱלֹהֶיךָ וְחֵי אָחִיךָ עִמָּךְ: (לז) אֶת כַּסְפְּךָ לֹא תִתֵּן לוֹ בְּנֶשֶׁךְ וּבְמַרְבִּית לֹא תִתֵּן אָכְלֶךָ: (לח) אֲנִי יְקֹוָק אֱלֹהֵיכֶם אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם לָתֵת לָכֶם אֶת אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן לִהְיוֹת לָכֶם לֵאלֹהִים:

ויקרא פרק כה, מז

מז) וְכִי תַשִּׂיג יַד גֵּר וְתוֹשָׁב עִמָּךְ וּמָךְ אָחִיךָ עִמּוֹ וְנִמְכַּר לְגֵר תּוֹשָׁב עִמָּךְ אוֹ לְעֵקֶר מִשְׁפַּחַת גֵּר:

בראשית פרק לא, מא

(מא) זֶה לִּי עֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה בְּבֵיתֶךָ עֲבַדְתִּיךָ אַרְבַּע עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה בִּשְׁתֵּי בְנֹתֶיךָ וְשֵׁשׁ שָׁנִים בְּצֹאנֶךָ וַתַּחֲלֵף אֶת מַשְׂכֻּרְתִּי עֲשֶׂרֶת מֹנִים:

ויקרא פרק יט, יג-יד

(יג) לֹא תַעֲשֹׁק אֶת רֵעֲךָ וְלֹא תִגְזֹל לֹא תָלִין פְּעֻלַּת שָׂכִיר אִתְּךָ עַד בֹּקֶר:

תוספתא מסכת בבא מציעא (ליברמן) פרק י

הלכה ג

הכובש שכר שכיר עובר משום חמשה לוין משום בל תעשק ובל תגזול ובל תלין ולא תבא עליו השמש

הלכה ד

אחד שכר אדם ואחד שכר בהמה ואחד שכר כלים עובר משום שמות הללו ר’ יוסי בר’ יהודה או’ שכר אדם עובר משום שמות הללו שכר בהמה ושכר כלים עובר משום בל תעשק [גר ותושב עובר משום בל תעשוק] ומשום ביומו תתן שכרו

מכילתא דרבי ישמעאל משפטים – מסכתא דנזיקין פרשה יח

נאמר בגרים שמירה, שנאמר +שם /תהלים/ קמו ט+ יי’ שומר את גרים; אברהם קרא עצמו גר, שנאמר +בראשית כג ד+ גר ותושב אנכי עמכם; דוד קרא עצמו גר, שנאמר +תהלים קיט יט+ גר אנכי בארץ, ואומר +דה”א =דברי הימים א’= כט טו+ כי גרים אנחנו לפניך ותושבים ככל אבותינו כצל ימינו על הארץ ואין מקוה, ואומר +תהלים לט יג+ כי גר אנכי עמך תושב ככל אבותי.

מסכתות קטנות מסכת גרים פרק ד

הלכה ד

אברהם אבינו קרא עצמו גר, שנאמר גר ותושב אנכי עמכם. דוד מלך ישראל קרא עצמו גר, שנאמר כי גר אנכי עמך, וכן הוא אומר כי גרים אנחנו לפניך.

טור יורה דעה הלכות צדקה סימן רמט

מעלה הגדולה שאין למעלה ממנה זה המחזיק ביד ישראל המך ונותן לו המתנה או הלואה או עושה עמו שותפות או ממציא לו מלאכה כדי לחזק את ידו שלא יצטרך לבריות ולא ישאל ועל זה נאמר והחזקת בו גר ותושב וחי עמך