The Torah is also the Heritage of Converts

In the previous letter, we began to discuss the following verse regarding the Torah – the Divine Teaching:
“The Torah that Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the Community of Jacob.” (Deuteronomy 33:4)
As we shall discuss in this letter, the Torah is not just the heritage of those who were born as Israelites; the Torah is also the heritage of individuals from other peoples who become Israelites through following the Torah’s procedures of conversion.
A major step in their conversion process is their acceptance of the Torah and its path of mitzvos. Through this acceptance, the prospective converts are emulating the example of our people at Mount Sinai, when we expressed our willingness to accept the Torah by saying, “Everything that Hashem has spoken, we will do and we will hear” (Exodus 24:7). Through this commitment, the Torah became the heritage of our people. The Torah also becomes the heritage of the prospective converts who are willing to make a similar commitment. Our tradition finds a reference to this idea in the following Divine statement:
“The convert who dwells with you shall be like a native among you” (Leviticus 19:34).
According to the midrashic commentary, Toras Kohanim, the above words are revealing the following important guideline which the rabbinical court must follow when accepting a convert into the People of Israel:
“Just as the native Israelite accepted all the words of the Torah, so does the convert accept all the words of the Torah.”
The responsibility of the convert must therefore be equal to the responsibility that our people assumed at Mount Sinai.
Dear Friends,
According to our tradition, the following verse is the first verse that each child of Israel learns as soon as he or she begins to speak:
“The Torah that Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the Community of Jacob (Deuteronomy 33:4).”
The above verse about our heritage refers to our people as, Kehilas Yaakov – the Community of Jacob. The Hebrew term kehilah is related to a Hebrew term for gathering; thus, the term Kehilas Yaakov can have the following literal meaning: The Gathering of the People of Jacob. According to our sages, the term Kehilas Yaakov includes converts; thus, the mention of this term in the above verse conveys to us the following teaching:
One should not say to the descendants of converts: “I am a child of the Torah, and the Torah was given to me and my ancestors; you and your ancestors, however, are not the children of the Torah, as your ancestors were converts.” This is because it is written: “The Torah that Moshe commanded us is a heritage of the Gathering of the People of Jacob”; this includes the converts who “gather” unto Jacob. (Midrash Tanchuma, Exodus, Va'Yakhel 8)
The Torah is therefore the heritage of all our people – those who were born as Israelites and those who became Israelites through conversion.
In my outreach work, I discovered that the dedication of sincere converts to our heritage can inspire those of our people who were born as Israelites. The following are two examples:
1. There are members of our people who had little or no knowledge of the Torah; yet, after meeting dedicated converts, they experienced a spiritual elevation which eventually led to their commitment to the Torah.
2. There are members of our people who have studied the Torah and who are committed to the Torah; yet, after meeting dedicated converts, they experienced a spiritual elevation which strengthened their commitment to the Torah.
The converts become Israelites through their acceptance of the Torah; thus, they serve as a reminder that we are the nation of the Torah. As Hashem proclaimed to our nation:
“Listen to Me, you who know righteousness, the nation with My Torah in its heart” (Isaiah 51:7).
Be Well, and Shalom,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen   (See below)
Related Insights and Information:
1. Two books within our Sacred Scriptures are named after converts: the Book of Ovadiah, and the Book of Ruth. The Talmud cites the tradition that Ovadiah, the Prophet, was a convert from Edom (Sanhedrin 39b).
2. The following is one of the mitzvos of the Torah path: “You shall love the convert” (Deuteronomy 10:19).
3. In a previous letter about outreach, we referred to the loving approach of the Chazon Ish, a leading sage of the 20th century who lived in the Land of Israel. The following is a story about the Chazon Ish which relates to the theme of this letter:
It was the custom of this elderly sage to celebrate Simchas Torah in the study hall of the Ponovezh Yeshiva, where the teachers and students joyfully dance with the Torah to lively spiritual nigunim (melodies). One Simchas Torah, when the Chazon Ish left the yeshiva to go home, he met a man weeping openly in the street. The Chazon Ish expressed his concern, and the man told the Chazon Ish that he was a convert; however, he felt that some of his fellow-Jews thought little of him and treated him as an outcast. The Chazon Ish said to him, “I invite his honor to sing a nigun.” The man obliged and began singing in a robust voice. There, in the street, the Chazon Ish danced to the nigun in front of the convert as one would dance before a bride and a groom at a wedding. The spirits of the convert were therefore revived. (This story appears in the ArtScroll biography, “The Chazon Ish” by Rabbi Shimon Finkelman: .)
4. Ahuvah Gray is an African-American convert who lives in the chareidi community of Bayit Vegan, Jerusalem. In her autobiography, “Journey to the Land of My Soul,” Ahuvah describes the warm and respectful way in which she was accepted into the Bayit Vegan community. In her second book, “Gifts of a Stranger,” she discusses her life after her conversion. In one chapter, she describes the visit of her sister, Nellie, to Bayit Vegan. Nellie spent a Shabbos with Ahuvah, and she experienced the warm hospitality of the people that invited her and Ahuvah for Shabbos meals. When Nellie returned to her home in Los Angeles, she wrote to Ahvuah:

“I feel that you have truly found your niche in Bayit Vegan. I have never experienced such love and acceptance as I did from these lovely families in your neighborhood.” 
The following is the address of Ahuvah’s website:  .
After you arrive at the site, there will appear some pictures of the places around the world where Ahuvah has lectured. In the “Shopping Cart” section, there is information on the DVD’s of some of her lectures. Communities and organizations in Israel and the Diaspora that would like to invite Ahuvah Gray to speak can contact her through the address listed on her site.


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