In previous musings, I focused on the first part of Leviticus 25:23 - that "the land may not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine." (JPS)
This year, while studying and reading parashat Behar, I kept getting stuck on the second half of this verse:
"ki-gerim v'Toshavim atem imadi" "You are but strangers resident with Me." (JPS)
Yes, in context, it seems to be an extension of the idea that we are just sojourners on the land, that the land indeed ultimately belongs to Gd. Still, I kept wondering what it means to be "strangers resident" with Gd.
The ger toshav, the "resident alien" is a fascinating concept. It refers to those who live among the but are not "members of the tribe" as it were. As Torah makes clear over and over, there is but one law for the people, and for the gerim toshavim that live with them.
There is much talk of late in liberal Jewish circles of reinvigorating this category as a way of welcoming non-Jewish spouses and other family members who are active in the life of a congregation. I've encountered many families where the non-Jewish spouse is far more involved in the family's Jewish life, in the Jewish education of the children, etc. There is a great debate about how we make these people feel welcome in the community. Treating them a gerim toshavim may be an workable solution for some. But I'm not writing to debate the merits of this particular issue.
So back to what it means to be "strangers resident" with Gd. What is it that makes us strangers, those of us who are part of Gd's covenant with the Jewish people? Surely, as a people chosen for a relationship with Gd (though not necessarily to the exclusion of other peoples) we are hardly strangers, aren't we?
Yet what is it like to be a ger toshav? It must feel a little odd at times. One attains a certain comfort level with the lifestyles, practices, and rules of the community in which they are a ger toshav, but there is always that little separation. There are things the ger toshav cannot understand, cannot comprehend in quite the same fashion.
And this, perhaps, is Gd's message. That for we Jews, as close as we may feel to Gd, as much a part of Gd's community as we think we are, the reality is that Gd is a community unto Gd's self. And there are things about Gd's "community" that we will never understand or comprehend.
Of course, that's an old understanding. It's the ever popular "don't go there" or the Jobian "where were you when I created..." And it's an answer that I often find unsatisfactory. And so I, and we, keep trying to understand, to comprehend. And we should never stop trying.
Nevertheless, sometimes there is an inner calm that can be achieved by accepting the idea that we are, indeed, gerim toshavim in Gd's community. It's a clam that I know I need this Shabbat. I commend it to you as well. All your fiercely intellectual thinkers out there who just won't accept the "Gd is simply beyond our comprehension" apologetic--take a deep breath, and stop butting you head against a wall for a while. And what better time than Shabbat to let go of this incessant drive to understand, and simply accept that that you are like a ger toshav residing in Gd's universe- as we all are.
©2005 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some previous musings on the same parasha:
Behar 5760-Slaves to Gd
5764 - The Price of Walls
Behar-Bekhukotai 5762 - Tough Love
Behar-Bekhukotai 5761-The Big Book (Bottoming Out Gd's Way)
Bechukotai 5763-Keri Is
Bekhukotai 5760-Repugnant Realities
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