In recent weeks we have been witness to a growing trend of violence on the part of our young people towards Palestinians. Incidents include rock throwing at Palestinian cars on the road and at private homes, incursions to villages and into homes. These acts of violence have caused a widespread loss of sleep; that, in turn, makes my heart cry out, my eyes tear up, and the pain to take over my entire body.

“The way we treat strangers, the powerless and the helpless is the truest measure if there is awe of God in a person’s heart or not”
(Prof. Nehama Leibovitz)

I cannot remain silent.

Let me say clearly to the entire world: This is *not* what it is all about!!!

This is not the reason we were given this amazing, ancient wisdom, that has been passed from generation to generation!

Let me share my point of view – a view that stems very much because of my deep faith! I feel this way because I feel so deeply connected to this strip of land! Because of the deep connection my soul has to my Jewish tradition!

I want to scream: This is not what our Torah commands us to do. This is not the way…

Thirty-six times (precisely twice the numerical value of the Hebrew word “chai”, meaning life) the Torah commands us to care for the stranger, to love the stranger, the prohibition to cause a stranger sorrow.

The Torah repeats this 36 times. This teaches us that the moral level of a society is measured in the way it relates to the weakest sectors of its society. Or, in the words of Rabbi Raphael Shimshon Hirsh: “All the tragedies that happened in Egypt, where you were “strangers,” and as such you had no rights, the nations of the world felt you had no right to a national identity, to a homeland, even to exist. They were free to do to you whatever they felt like. As strangers you had no rights in Egypt; that was the root of your slavery and of the torture that was done to you.

“So remember! – this is a warning – lest you base human rights in your country on something other than pure humanity, which rests in the heart of every human being, ONLY because he or she is a human being. Any withering of human rights will open the door to cruelty towards people – this is the root of all Egypt’s abominations.”

“And you shall love the stranger, for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt.”

Am Yisrael’s responsibility towards the stranger, as  anation that experienced slavery in Egypt, is the most-oft repeated mitzvah in the Torah. It’s mentioned more times than the mitzvah to settle the Land of Israel, honouring parents, even more times than Shabbat…

Does the Torah repeat this mitzvah so often because the Torah feels it’s more important than other mitzvahs? Or could it be because the Torah knows how hard this mitzvah is and is afraid we are going to forget this lesson?

The answer would seem to be somewhere in the middle. The repetition does stress its importance, but also raises our awareness that it’s not a simple matter. It’s not an easy mitzvah to observe.

Many people have told me that this mitzvah is only relevant towards a convert to Judaism. I’ve been gently corrected many times, by people who have clarified that the Hebrew word “ger” refers to a person who becomes a member of the Jewish nation – after all, it is unthinkable that our Torah would afford such honour to a non-Jew.

So I checked it out the source of this principle. Let me share what I found.

The first time the word “ger” is used, it was God Himself -speaking about us, the Jewish people. We are the first strangers: There is even a rabbinic homiliy (midrash) that clarifies that the children of Israel were redeemed from Egypt primarily because they never changed their mode of dress, their names or their language. They preserved their unique characteristics.

The Torah’s description of the “ger”’s condition makes it clear that it is talking about a anyone who is a stranger, anyone who is different , who is not part of the ruling majority under whose grace they live.

Later, the word “ger” is used to describe anyone who isn’t Jewish – every person who lives as a minority under Jewish sovereignty. Only when we lived in small communities as a small minority the word was expanded to “foreign resident” or “righteous convert”. This term describes a person who decides to change his religion to Judaism and to join the Jewish people.

The Bible calls the Jewish People to take a lot of responsibility for treating strangers properly because we they aren’t part of our nation, because we went through this experience. We Jews understand better than anyone what it means to be a stranger.

This issue of Jewish law – should Arab residents of the Land of Israel be treated as “foreign residnets” – came up for discussion in the early years of Zionism. Rabbi Abraham Issac Hacohen Kook ruled that yes, Muslim residents of the Land of Israel have the halachic (Jewish law) status of foreign residents (i.e. that they must be treated with all the honor the Torah reserves for a stranger). This ruling was later repeated by Rabbi Yitzhak Isaac Halevi Herzog, the first chief rabbi of the state of Israel.

And I ask myslelf – Are we able to be faithful to our founding values as the Jewish People?

Here, from Judea and Samaria, where settling the land is such a primary value, where people are willing to put their lives and the lives of their children on the line for the benefit of this land, where the love for the Land of Israel burns so brightly, where Jewish residents contend daily with the threat of Palestinian terror and violence – Here is the very place we must act when actions like these emanate from inside our communities, in our name.

For all these reasons, I believe so deeply in Roots and the way we have denounced every outbreak of violence, whenever it is employed as a tool to advance some sort of rights

We will continue to take responsibility – with dialogue and peace and partnership – to change the reality in which we live and to push for the right of both our nations to live in their land.