5760 - #36
The Challenge of Unity
Twice in parshat
Beshalach we find the statement that there is Torah
achat, one Torah, for both the ezrach, the
born Jew descended from the forefathers,1 and the ger,
the one who becomes a Jew.2 The only other place that we find
the term Torah achat used in the same context3 is in Shemot
12:49 in connection with the korban Pesach,
the Paschal sacrifice. There Rashi explains that
the purpose of this statement is to establish the
equality of the ger and the ezrach in
regard to the rest of the mitzvot.4 The Siftei
Chachamim questions why this is necessary. As the ger
is a full Jew, why would one even think that a ger
is not equally responsible for the mitzvot?5 In any event, why
the need to repeat the statement of Torah achat in
Beshalacha, not only once but twice?
Malbim, HaTorah V'HaMitzvot, Vayikra 101
discusses, at length, the need for the Torah to often
include the ger in a mitzvah directive.
There are times when a mitzvah is simply stated
generically and there are times when a mitzvah
specifically states that it is applicable also to the ger.
The question is obvious: why the need to specifically
include the ger in these mitzvot
statements? Malbim responds that whenever the Torah
states, in connection to a mitzvah, daber el Bnei
Yisrael, that Moshe is to speak to the Children of
Israel, the action is applicable specifically to Israel6 and there is the
need to include the ger.7 Malbim, however, does not explain
While the ger, as Rambam, Mishneh Torah,
Hilchot Issurei Bi'ah 12:17 points out, is
considered a Jew in all matters, in fact the ger
does occupy a different status in Halacha than an ezrach.
While the differences are few,8 - for example, a ger cannot
become a king - nonetheless there is a distinction. Yet,
in that Rambam states that the ger is a Jew in all
matters, we must also contend there is no distinction. In
fact, this is precisely what we are encountering. In
declaring Torah echat we are stating that the ger
and the ezrach are to be treated equally, that
there is to be no distinction. But in reiterating this
claim, by specifically including in many situations that
the ger is also to be included in a mitzvah,
we are actually pointing out the distinction. One does
not need to specifically include unless there is a
perception of difference and non-inclusion. The Torah,
through its many statements of inclusion is actually
causing us to think why the ger is not included.
And yet, as we consider the distinctiveness of gerim,
we are being directed to fully include them.
The matter seems to be not only Divinely intentional but
highly intentional. Sdei Chemed, klal Beit, no. 4,
quoting many commentators, states that daber el Bnei
Yisrael is intended to exclude the ger but
inevitably in these many cases there is a specific
inclusion of the ger.9 The process of contemplating
exclusion and then including must, thus, be seen as
significant. Inclusion of the ger into the nation
of Israel cannot occur through the simple statement of
inclusion or through not accepting the starting point of
difference. The only way to achieve inclusion is by
initially accepting the distinction. The ger must
be accepted as outside Bnei Yisrael. The statement
daber el Bnei Yisrael must be perceived as
excluding the ger. Only then can we extend
equality to the ger, specifically include him/her
in the edict through the specific statement of inclusion.
Inclusion does not occur passively but there must be an
act of inclusion. We must perceive the ger's
distinctiveness in order to work - to put in the effort -
to extend equality.10
The meraglim, the spies, brought disunity to the
Jewish people. There was divisiveness. There was Calev
and Yehoshua on one side; the other meraglim on
the other. When, in response to their sin in accepting
the testimony of the spies, the nation wished to
independently go up to Israel, Moshe and the Ark did not
join them;11 the camp was not
complete. The book of Bamidbar is, unfortunately,
replete with events that demonstrate this disunity. The
challenge is how to achieve unity. The answer lies not in
the simple declaration of unity but in the recognition of
the disunity. Unity can only be achieved by understanding
the forces of disunity and divisiveness and responding to
The land is often considered to be a point of unity. The
story of the meraglim indicates that the land may
be the container of unity but it does not create unity.
In fact, the land can be a source of disunity. The ger
has no ancestral right in the land of Israel. In regard
to the land, there is no equality between the ger
and the ezrach. It is Torah echat that is
the basis of unity, but only if we understand the
starting point of distinction. Both mitzvot in
this parsha that assert Torah echat, open
with the statement of entering the land. The process of
achieving unity - through the recognition of the
challenge and the reality of the effort that is demanded
- must precede the land.
Benjamin Hecht e-mail
1 Further on these
status definitions, specifically over time and the
generations, see T.B. Kiddushin 75a and Shulchan
Aruch, Even HaEzer 4: 22,23. See also Rambam,
Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 1;4.
2 See Bamidbar
15:16 and 15:29.
3 The term is also
used in connection with sacrifices in Vayikra 7:7
4 The language in
Rashi's source, Mechilta, Bo 100 is "in all
the mitzvot in the Torah."
5 The Siftei
Chachamim presents a technical answer. See also Mizrachi.
6 See also Sifri,
7 Malbim argues that
the lesson from Shemot is limited to situations when daber
el Bnei Yisrael is not mentioned.
8 See Encyclopedia
Talmudit, vol. 6, Ger 4,5
9 See also Tosfot,
Succah 28a, d.h. l'rabot.
10 In certain ways,
this can be compared to affirmative action programs in
the United States. Inherently affirmative action is
discriminatory and continues the reality of differences.
The argument for affirmative action is that only by
accepting the differences and applying thereby
distinctions in action is equality eventually attainable.
11 Bamidbar 14:44.
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