If you were cast away on an island with just one Jewish text for company, which would you choose?
This week, Rabbi Dr Robert Ash chooses Deuteronomy 29:9, 10
You stand today all of you before the Eternal your God: heads of your tribes, your elders, your officers, every man of Israel; with your children, your wives and your stranger…”
I LIKE this text because it seems at first reading so unpromising in terms of interesting or compelling lessons which might be drawn from it. But, using the Jewish tradition of close reading of texts, I find in it a gem of a lesson just waiting to be unearthed.
In the Hebrew of this text, the words “your tribes”, “your elders”, “your children”, in fact all but one of the yours, are in the grammatical plural. The sole exception, the one term which we might say is singled out, is “your stranger”, ger’cha. Why are all the other categories of person found in the plural possessive form, except for the stranger, which is in the singular?
Those categories of persons found in the plural form represent community, a network which affords mutual safety and security to those who belong.
This communal security is not automatically available to those who are perceived as “outsiders”, or “others”.
We are told to love the stranger because that was our situation in Egypt and therefore we “know the heart of the stranger”.
The singular suffix added to the noun ger teaches us that the welfare of vulnerable persons is our individual responsibility.
We may not rely on someone else to stand up for their rights. Each of us must take responsibility for their care and protection.