In Leviticus 24:22 we read:
"There shall be one judgment for you, for both the alien and the native born it will be, for I am the Adnai, your Gd."
The clear decree follows the repetition of the "lex talionis," -- the decree of justice as "eye for eye, life for life. (For a commentary on the lex talionis, I refer you to my Mishpatim musing from a few months ago, "My Object All Sublime.")
The meaning is clear--those who live in our community shall be subject to the same rules of behavior and will all have the same meting out of justice applied to them.
There are subtleties in the translation of the word "ger" which can affect how we view this. Some commentaries translate "ger" as proselyte or convert, some as alien or stranger, still others as sojourner, traveler, or temporary resident. Thus, some are able to claim that these laws and punishments apply only to those in the community who are part of the covenant, either by birth or conversion. Others argue that the rules apply to all who dwell in the community, even temporarily. When in Rome...
Would there be those, some ask, who dwell in the community who are not part of the covenant? Did not even the assembled multitudes that accompanied the Hebrews out of Egypt become a party to this special relationship, if they were there are Sinai?
I think it's quite likely that there are always people living in a community who do not fully embrace its values or practices. And it's likely this was true among those to whom Moses addressed these words. Does this mean they are not subject to the community's laws?
Imagine, for a moment, deciding that, for you, a red light means go and a green light means stop. By so doing, you will endanger both yourself and other members of the community.
Aha, you say. Is it only a question of harm that matters? In that case, a choice to eat non-kosher foods causes no harm. If one chooses not to follow something the Torah commands and it causes no harm, is one subject to the same punishment as one who accepts the mantle of the Torah and then transgresses?
Seems like a nice out, doesn't it. It is, nevertheless, a slippery slope. If one can choose to not honor the commandment to refrain from work on Shabbat (how many negatives can we get into one sentence?) how far is it to allowing them to choose to commit murder or adultery or theft?
And here is where the genius of Leviticus 24:22 comes in. Mishpat Ekhad -- one judgment -- for all. Whose judgment is the key. It is the judgment of the community? Of the elders? Of Moshe? No, is it mishpat Ekhad -- the judgment of The One -- the judgment of Gd. And Gd metes out justice and judgment as Gd chooses.
Rather than a statement of particularity, it is a statement of universality. Whether we are "ezra" or "ger", we are all subject to the judgment of The One. Sort of makes the question of particularity moot. Believe what you will, practice as you may. Ultimately for all of us, believer or not, judgment is in Gd's hands, not ours.
©2003 by Adrian A. Durlester
Emor 5759-Lex Talionis
Emor 5760-Mum's the Word
Emor 5761-Eternal Effort
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