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 Israel
6 and there is the need to include the ger.7 Malbim, however, does not explain why.
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 them.
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.

Rabbi 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, Beshalach 19.

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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