rashihed.jpg (16002 bytes)

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)


by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


Back to this week's parsha | Previous Issues

Parashas Mishpatim

Exodus 22:20

"You shall not abuse a stranger and you shall not oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt."

For you were strangers. Rashi: If you vex him he can also vex you by saying you too aredescended from "gairim" - "strangers. Do not reproach your fellow man about a fault whichyou also have. The term "ger" means a person who has not been born in that land (where he is presently living) but has come from another country to dwell there.

Notice that in his comment Rashi gives the definition of the word "ger."

But this raises a simple question: Why does Rashi need to define the simple and familiar word "ger." The word is a very common. It already occurs several times Genesis ( one example: Genesis 15:13) and it can even be found in the previous parasha, Yisro (Exodus 20:10). Rashi doesn't define the word there. Why here?

Rashi would not define a familiar word unless there is a deeper problem forcing him to take the time to define it here.

What Is Bothering Rashi?

What kind of "ger" is referred to in this verse? There are two types of "strangers."

1) The stranger-sojourner. He lives in the Land of Israel, but isn't Jewish. He observes the Seven Noachide laws, as every non-Jew is obligated to do.

2) The "ger tzedek" The righteous convert. He is a convert to Judaism and is a full-fledged Jew.

Which one is referred to here?

Understanding the Verse

An Answer: The "stranger" here is a convert. Rashi's comment is based on the Talmud Bava Metzia 59b. Don't say to him "Until now swine flesh was sticking out from between your teeth and now you dare to stand up and speak against me!"

This is a convert who until recently ate swine.

Now reread the verse and see if you understand it.
What does it mean when it says: for you were "strangers" in Egypt ?
What kind of strangers ?

Understanding Rashi

Certainly our forefathers weren't converts in Egypt. They were strangers in a strange land, in a word - foreigners.

But that obvious conclusion leads to another problem.

A Deeper look

If the Israelites were foreigners, and not converts, and if the stranger we are enjoined not to oppress is a convert and not a foreigner, what kind of comparison is there ? Of what relevance is the fact that you were strangers in the land of Egypt since we were a very different type of "ger" than the one being taunted?

Understanding Rashi's Logic

We now begin to understand Rashi's logic. He never defined the word "ger" before in the Torah because it's meaning is clear and never needed clarification. But in our verse there is likelihood of confusion. It is for this reason that Rashi defines the word at this point, and at this point only; telling us that the basic meaning of "ger" is one who comes from another country. Rashi is aware, that the meaning of the word "ger" changes imperceptibly within this verse. The Israelites were certainly not converts, and the taunted one is a convert. Therefore Rashi had to make it clear at this point, to avoid any confusion, what kind of "gerim" the Israelites were in Egypt.

A Deeper Understanding

But, if we are talking about two different "gerim" how can a comparison can be made between them?

The relationship between the two types of strangers is explained in the Talmud, Bava Metzia 59b. There it says: one should not say to a person who has had someone in his family sentenced to death by hanging, your clothes are hanging on the line outside. Just the mere mention of the word "hanging" sends chills down his spine, so we are reminded to be sensitive to this. Likewise here: The Torah is telling us to be sensitive to anyone who is a "ger" because as long as your status is similar to his, even if in name only, then you too are vulnerable to his taunts and thus you, of all people, should be sensitive to his vulnerable position.

The Lesson

An exquisite example of a deceptively simple comment which makes us aware of an overlooked difficulty in the verse.

A note to our readers: We are preparing to publish the Vayikra volume of What's Bothering Rashi? It will add another dimension to the study of Rashi - this time Rashi's creative use of the midrash. We are looking for sponsors of this volume to enable us to publish it. Contributions can be made in Memory of or in Honor of close ones. The previous volumes of "What's Bothering Rashi?" have been adopted for use in many schools and into many Jewish homes. Your sponsorship will make it possible to continue and enlarge this project. Those interested can write msbonch@mscc.huji.ac.il

Shabbat Shalom

Back to this week's parsha | Previous Issues

This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.

For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael
Classes, send mail to parsha@shemayisrael.co.il

Jerusalem, Israel