Thou Shalt Love Thy Stranger

“And a stranger shalt thou not oppress; for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9).

The Bible boasts several commandments that deal with the way we treat one another. There is a section of such commandments within the book of Exodus. All at once, we are told that we must give charity, treat our servants well, look out for widows and orphans, do not accept bribes, among other things. One commandment repeats itself at the beginning and at the end of this section of moral laws, and that is the verse above, that we must treat “strangers” well. Proper treatment of “strangers” or converts is so important, that it is mentioned in the Bible as many as 46 times! We are commanded not to oppress the stranger, and not to “ill-treat” the stranger. The Sages teach us that “oppress” refers to monetary matters – do not take advantage of them, steal from them, etc. “Ill-treatment” refers to how we relate to strangers emotionally – the Bible is teaching us that it is wrong to treat the stranger as an outsider or remind him of his origins.

“Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for the home-born; for I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 24:22). Not only must the stranger not be wronged, he is to also be included among the rest of the Jewish people who benefit from the Bible’s welfare laws.

The stranger has no support system, no community, and no family. God watches over these people, and we are meant to emulate God and behave in His image. It is up to us to look out for these people and make sure they are safe and taken care of. The Bible understands the deep psychological impact that being a stranger has on someone. Moses even named his son “Gershon,” from the Hebrew word for stranger which is “ger,” as he explained, “I have been a stranger in a strange land” (Exodus 18:3).

The welfare and morality instructed in the Bible was thousands of years before its time. The commandments are timeless, and we have so much to learn from the Bible, not only on how to relate to God, but perhaps more importantly, how to relate to one another.

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