Jewish Ethics on the 'Ger'

Parashat Ki Teitzei 5771 - Saturday, September 10, 2011
On the occasion of the B’nei Mitzvah of Gil Gerber and Daniel Gershen

One might suspect, considering the closeness of your last names, that Daniel and Gil’s date had been determined by alphabetical order.

What I find most interesting about your names though, is how we can connect the letters in common - G-E-R - to the parashah that you just read, and to our Haftarah reading.

The Haftarah continues the cycle of consolation that lead us from the lowest point on the Jewish calendar - Tisha be-Av, the Ninth of Av, the worst day of Jewish history, in mid-summer - to arguably the highest point, our High Holy Day Season starting at the end of this month. All our Haftarah readings at this time remind us of our blessings after revisiting the stories of tragedy in our history. Today’s reading, from Isaiah Chapter 54, continues in that theme, and reminds us of the divine promise made to Noah to never destroy the world again. On this weekend of commemoration, we get to strike a hopeful chord.

As to the meaning of your names - the Hebrew word “Ger” refers to the stranger, the traveler between communities. In your parashah, in addition to all of the commandments that you read, we find on other instruction in this phrase in Deuteronomy 23:8: “You are not to oppress the Egyptian, for your were a stranger in their land.”

With all of the other wonderful messages you sent us about this week’s reading, here is one more - all of them are supported by this central ethic in Judaism. Do not oppress others because we have sympathy for the oppressed - we were oppressed before. More importantly, do not oppress others who once oppressed you either!

Both of you have not only read and led admirably today, you also gave of your time and efforts freely in your Tzedakah projects - working with survivors of domestic abuse and the families of our soldiers. You embraced this ethic, this notion that we should not only not oppress others, but that people in difficulty deserve our assistance. That the extension of not oppressing others can be found in working towards a world in which no one is oppressed, either by what we do, or what we allow to happen around us.

Whether by pursuing justice through good deeds, through learning, or through the leadership that you have shown us all today, we honor you both, Gil and Daniel.