Posted on March 23, 2011
by Charlene Thrope
January 22, 2010 / 7 Shevat 5770
Just as the Israelites leave Egypt, a series of laws about Pesach interrupts the story. The intricacies of Pesach, like what counts as chametz and the text of the Hagaddah, come much later, but the laws in Parashat Bo give us a fairly detailed description of how and why we celebrate Pesach. However, some of these laws extend beyond Pesach.
“There shall be one law for the citizen and for the ger who dwells among you.” (Shemot 12:49)
“Ger” is often translated as “stranger,” but this definition doesn’t convey the true meaning of the word in this context. As a non-Israelite who makes a conscious decision to live with the Israelites, a ger takes on certain obligations, but also benefits from being part of the community. A ger is contrasted with a ben-neichar, translated as “foreigner” – a non-Israelite who just happens to be living with the Israelites temporarily. If he circumcises himself, a ger is allowed to offer the Pesach sacrifice, whereas a ben-neichar is not even allowed to eat the sacrifice.
The difference between a ger and a ben-neicher is their level of desire to be part of the Israelite people. Because a ger actually makes an effort to join the community, we treat him just like any other member of the community. We are not overly harsh, but we also do not give him special treatment. This balance is essential for a ger to actually feel like he is an Israelite.
It is so easy to act differently towards outsiders, whether we ignore them or make exceptions for them, and these actions cause outsiders to remain outsiders. When a new student comes transfers to your school, show him around without allowing her to become dependent on you. When a new member comes to your chapter program, be friendly but don’t force her into friendships. If you treat outsiders the same way you treat everyone else, you’ll begin to realize there never was any reason to treat them differently, and so will they.