Abarbanel on the Parsha

For the week ending 14 May 2016 / 6 Iyyar 5776

Parshat Kedoshim

by Rabbi Pinchas Kasnett
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

How to Relate to Converts

“When a proselyte dwells among you in your land, do not scorn him. The proselyte who dwells with you shall be like a native among you, and you shall love him like yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt - I am the L-rd your G-d.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)

Through these two brief verses Abarbanel brings out a number of profound insights. Having just warned the Children of Israel to distance themselves from the abominable practices and false beliefs of the Canaanite nations that they would soon be encountering, there was a legitimate fear that they would reject converts due to their previous actions and beliefs. Therefore, G-d had to make sure that these converts would not be rejected. Each convert should be considered a full-fledged “native among you”, and he should not be made to feel ashamed of the beliefs and actions of his ancestors. He should essentially be viewed as not having any Canaanite ancestors at all.

Abarbanel then offers a unique insight into Torah’s reason for being careful with converts: “For you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” At first glance there isn’t any connection between our experience in Egypt and a Canaanite’s experience as a convert to Judaism. We were aliens in that we did not abandonour culture, language and beliefs. The Canaanite convert is doing exactly the opposite; he is abandoninghis past. The Egyptians scorned us for what we held onto.The Children of Israel are being adjured not to scorn the convert for what he abandoned! What G-d is actually saying is that when the Children of Israel were aliens in Egypt, He was connected to them, never abandoning them; He was “The L-rd, your G-d”. This is exactly the relationship that He has with converts. To them He is also “The L-rd, your G-d.”


Finally, the verse that immediately follows states, “You shall not commit a perversion in justice, in measures of length, weight or volume.” (Leviticus 19:35) The immediate proximity of the two verses is not coincidental. Previously (Leviticus 19:15) the Torah used the exact same expression: “You shall not commit a perversion of justice.” Abarbanel says that the earlier verse is a general warning that applies to our dealings with the entire Jewish nation. Here, however, we are being warned specifically not to pervert justice generally in our dealings with converts, and specifically in terms of honest weights and measures. Every action that is considered a forbidden perversion of justice in regard to the “regular” Jew is equally a forbidden perversion of justice in regard to the convert.

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