Friday November 18, 2022 – כ״ג חֶשְׁוָן תשפ”ג
גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁ֥ב אָנֹכִ֖י עִמָּכֶ֑ם תְּנ֨וּ לִ֤י אֲחֻזַּת־קֶ֙בֶר֙ עִמָּכֶ֔ם וְאֶקְבְּרָ֥ה מֵתִ֖י מִלְּפָנָֽי” (בראשית כג:ד)”
“I am a resident alien among you; sell me a burial site among you, that I may remove my dead for burial.” (Genesis 23:4)
Too often the lessons we glean from the legacy of Avraham Avinu (Abraham our Patriarch) are ones of particularism, devotion, and reason. Every 5-year-old knows the midrash of Avram smashing the idols in his father’s shop. We learn of his blind faith, leaving his father’s house and his birthplace for the land that God will show him. We revel in the devotion of his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac, and his commitment to justice in attempting to prevent the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gamora.
The Jewish residents of Hevron and Kiryat Arba – most notably the future Minister MK Itamar Ben Gvir of the Otzma Yehudit party – would do well to internalize the lesson of the Hittites in how they treated and respected Avraham, the ‘resident alien.’ Documented in this week’s parashah, – Avraham purchased Kiryat Arba some 4000 years ago as a burial ground for his wife Sarah. It is now among the most contentious plots of land in the world, as in honor of Parashat Chayei Sarah thousands of ultra-Nationalist Jews fill the streets of Hevron/Kiryat Arba in celebration of their dominion over this area.
The lesson is not so much about ownership as it is about radical acceptance.
Avraham was uncertain whether his neighbors would accept or tolerate him as a resident alien in their midst. Their acceptance surprised him. They admired his conviction, reminding him “אֲדֹנִי נְשִׂיא אֱלֹהִים אַתָּה – You are the elect of God among us” (Genesis 23:6).
Through much of Jewish history, Jews lived as “resident aliens” under the auspices of other nations. The descendants of Abraham as a Ger V’Toshav must then be accepting, creative, and welcoming of others when living in our land, sharing with others the spiritual treasures and wisdom from the Psalms and the Prophets. Our people ought to show the same spirit of creativity and acceptance that was shown to our ancestor Aהraham.
However, that is not what we see in Hevron today.
There is one central message in this week’s parashah: namely, that Abraham insisted on purchasing the Cave of Machpelah to bury his wife Sarah there. That is how we know that Hevron is ours. It is, as Jews, our deed to the Land. However, that may not hold up in a court of law today, in the international community, nor does it give us license to act as though there are no other people living there.
Who is a Ger V’Toshav?
A ger v’toshav was an individual of special status in the community, one who lived permanently among the citizens of a place but did not have the status of a citizen. In the TaNaKh, a ger toshav was a non-Jew who dwelt among the Jewish people and followed Jewish practice without actually converting to Judaism. Such an individual enjoyed all the protections a society offered its citizens but was exempt, by virtue of his/her special status, from many of the requirements of citizenship.
The irony of the situation today is that the Kahanist Religious Zionists (as opposed to other Religious Zionists), and the ultra-Orthodox parties – who celebrate and advocate for increased Jewish presence in the places that we are told were purchased by a ger v’toshav – are actively asserting the perpetuation of this liminal status for others. By threatening to revoke the ‘Grandchild clause’ of Israel’s Law of Return that has assured the right of immigration to Israel to any Jew who has a Jewish grandparent since 1970, ) and overturn the Supreme Court ruling recognizing Reform and Conservative conversions in Israel, these factions are submitting plans that would effectively bar any Jews converted by non-Orthodox rabbis from making aliyah and would create a “system of first- and second-class Jews” worldwide.
Just on Wednesday PM elect Netanayu and Itamar Ben Gvir agreed to amend the Disengagement Law in order to enable Jews to settle in the settlement of Homesh in northern Samaria/West Bank, which was evacuated in 2005. Their agreement also called for a change to a law known as the “Dromi Law,” which will essentially ease the orders for opening fire for Settlers who serve as civilian guards and security officers.
The 12th-century commentator, Yoseph ben Yitzhak of Orleans, France known as the B’chor Shor, reminds us that a ger is someone who came from another land, and a toshav is one who resides with them in their land, about whom they replied ‘you are no stranger to us’ but an elect of God among us.”
גר ותושב. גר שבאתי מארץ אחרת ותושב שדעתי להתיישב עמכם והם השיבו אין אתה גר בעינינו רק נשיא אלקים:
Imagine for a moment that the incoming Government of Israel says to the world:
“Despite the external threats from Iran, Hizbollah, and Hamas, we are secure in our sovereignty and maintain our qualitative military edge. Now we need to recognize others, including the Palestinians, who also feel a deep connection to the land but lack sovereignty; converts to Judaism who deeply desire to be part of the Jewish people, refugees from Ukraine, asylum seekers from Africa, and those whose conversion status is pending – because we remember that our patriarch was himself a resident alien.”
In 1970, Yisrael Shlomo Ben-Meir of the National Religious Zionist Party — a very different Religious Zionist Party as compared to the current iteration of Religious Zionism – favored the inclusion of people who are not Jewish [according to Orthodox interpretations of Jewish law] as a positive step as it gave equal rights to those with:
“a connection to the Jewish people, with the hope that they would eventually find their way into the embrace of their forefathers, join the Jewish people by the book, convert, and become part of us and strengthen our power in the Land.”
The purchase of the Cave of the Machpelah in Hevron is more than an act of sentiment of a grieving husband to secure a burial place for his wife. It symbolizes the hopes of the couple’s descendants: you and me, the readers of this story, and the inhabitants of that Land. At the time of Avraham, being a ‘resident alien’ was all he could hope for, but at least it was a foothold in the Promised Land and represented hope for those far away. For so many, Avraham and the Holy Land represented hopeful possibilities. This single dunam of Land has been historically the promise of a larger settlement to come, the messianic hope for the Jewish people. That hope and that promise were based upon the good graces of others who showed compassion for a ger v’toshav living amongst them. As Jews, it is our responsibility to advocate for our people’s right to own Land in Israel and to uphold the values of compassion and acceptance of others as represented in our own story.
On Pesach, we remind ourselves that we were slaves in the land of Egypt and now live as a free people in our Land, and on Shabbat Parashat Chayei Sarah we should be reminded that our ownership over the Land came about as the result of the compassion shown to us by others. How easily too many of us forget this. May Itamar Ben Gvir, Bezalel Smotrich, their followers, the Haredi Parties, and Israel’s new government heed the lesson of those who once accepted Avraham Avinu, before it’s too late…