Tuesday, June 7, 2011

SHAVUOT; the precious ger

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman


The ger, the convert to Judaism, follows in the footsteps of Avraham Avinu, the Patriarch Abraham, and of Sarah Imenu, the Matriarch Sarah, who were themselves gerim. They chose a new path for themselves, following the deepest yearning of their heart for the ultimate truth that there is One G*d who demands righteousness and ethical behavior. The ger is precious to us as a people, and yet the ger may feel a sense of loneliness, as he/she chose this path for themselves.

Our tradition teaches that all the souls of Israel, past, present and future, stood as one at Mount Sinai, together with the souls of all future gerim, those who would accept the Torah, the Covenant between G*d and Israel. The ger is so holy. And as being holy means being set aside and special in the best sense, being holy and pure as the Sabbath is holy and pure, less sensitive and less refined souls may view the apartness as a possible negative, and so the Torah adjures us 36 times not to oppress the ger in any way. It would be like oppressing Avraham and Sarah, their parents.

The ger, the convert, is fundamentally alone. Unmoored from the past, yet not feeling fully hinged to the present, he eternally seeks validation that he has, in fact, arrived. The aloneness is his burden, and yet it is his fundamental strength. Recreating Abraham's singular journey, who himself was a ger, he finds solace in the sojourn, that the voyage is, in a certain sense, his ultimate calling.

Nitzavim/Vayelech- "standing, yet going," replicates so delicately the narrowing arc of Israel's destiny, from the edge of history to that of its vibrant center. Ironically, KI GERIM HAYITEM B'ERETZ MITZRAYIM,"because you were strangers in the land of Egypt," employs the plural form for stranger (gerim) when referring to Israel, yet when the Torah refers to the actual GER among Israel, it prefers the use of the singular. Maybe it is because each holy ger comes alone in his quest, following the deep yearning of his soul. In a sense he revels in that aloneness as the precursor of his search, for the search only begins with the confrontation with his essential aloneness. It is that very sense of aloneness which in the end gives comfort. As G*d is essentially alone, and yet yearns to be rejoined by the righteous of Israel and the world, so too does the ger share with G*d in that existential aloneness.

In the very opening lines of our parsha (Deut. 29:9,10), every group mentioned takes a plural ending-save the proselyte. But in parshat Yitro, in the very verses uttered at the Sabbath day Kiddush (Ex. 20:8-10), every referenced group takes the singular ending- along with the proselyte. Moreover, in Nitzavim, the proselyte is positioned in the center of the camp of Israel (vegercha asher b'KEREV MACHANECHA),"and your proselyte who is in the midst of your camp,"whereas, in Yitro, the ger is figuratively positioned at the edge of the camp, literally at the gates seeking admission (gercha asher B'SHAARECHA)" your proselyte who is at your gates."

Maybe this reflects perspective. As in quantum physics, perspective itself affects reality, even affecting the affective, i.e., the realm of feelings. When one is standing on the edge, just another point along the circumference, then all whom you know is standing right next to you- immediately to your right, and immediately to your left. But when one is standing in the center, everyone else seems plural in the sense that one now takes in the greater whole from the central vantage point. The periphery, once veiled owing to one's having had been a part of that very periphery, now becomes enlarged in its seeming fullness by virtue of one's new perspective.

How true that the ger amongst us once stood alone at the gates, beckoning admission. And how true that those very gerim are now the vibrant center of our Jewish lives, whose vibrant enthusiasm so infectiously stimulate. As Israel is the central truth seeker and shaker in world history, so too is the ger the energy center and truth seeking core within Israel.

Israel, similarly, remains the vibrant center in world consciousness, stands alone, and similarly craves acceptance by those of the world tribunal so reticent to grant it. In the opening verse of our parsha (verse 9) the word "Israel" stands alone in the singular. So too does the word "ger" in the immediate verse following. Alone amongst the plurality, Israel and the ger share a fate forever intertwined, as stood Abraham, exemplar exemplorum.

Israel, having just left Egyptian bondage, in its precovenantal state, was still yet seemingly just another nation, standing at the gates of world history, but readying to stand center-stage. Israel, qua Israel, emerging from its own ger status as history's UR-stranger, had yet to receive the covenant through which to be then thrust to centerpoint. And in walking through those gates, the ger takes center stage, for the momentum keeps him going.

Israel, through her taking on the Covenant, symbolized by the Sabbath, and reaffirmed in the Kiddush, likewise becomes the new center- history's hub, even as that very hub urges a transcendence of history. The existential loneliness of Israel is the existential loneliness of the ger. The two remain as one, as one with the One G*d of Israel, the One G*d of the ger.

Chag Sameach! Gut Yuntiff!

© 2000 - 2011 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman
These words of Torah are written in the merit of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, obm, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Ya'aqov Hakohen Melman, z"l and in memory of my beloved mother, Esther Melman, obm, Esther bat Baruch z"l.


http://seferchabibi.blogspot.com/2007/07/yahrzeit-of-my-father-27-tammuz.html
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506EEDC1630F93BA35754C0A9649C8B63

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/nytimes/obituary.aspx?n=esther-melman&pid=143745543

Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua
(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)

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About Me

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I played violin with Reb Shlomo and studied under him for over nine years at hundreds of concerts and learnings. Shlomo wanted to give me smicha before he passed. Deepest influences: My father,obm, who was a great scientist and human being, and my grandfather, obm, who was a great Torah scholar who was a musmach of the Mir Yeshiva and taught in Slobodka in Russia before WW1, and was also personal friends with the Chafetz Chaim and came to America in 1914. He knew the Talmud by heart! You could stick a pin in a word and he could tell you what word was on the other side! And my mother, Esther bat Baruch, z"l, who was a scholar of classical Hebrew and Tanach and who gave me a love for the language. And her mother, Anna (Sucher) Deutsch, who was born in Horodenka, spoke six languages, and shared her aged wisdom and eternal sweetness with me. I studied at Brandeis, Hebrew College, Pardes as well as seven years at The Metivta/ITJ earning my Advanced Semicha (yoreh yoreh)under Rav Halivni. What's truly amazing is that Shlomo and Rav Halivni each received semicha from Rav Hutner! But my deepest influences of them all are my sweetest sweetest girls who have taught me the most!