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Notes from Moishe House

Converts in Aggadah

Rabbi Josh Levy

Numbers 5:5-10 במדבר ה׳
The Eternal* spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to the people of Israel: When a man or a woman commits any wrong against a fellow, thus breaking faith with the Eternal, and that person recognises their guilt; then they shall confess their sin which they have done; and shall make restitution for the trespass in full, and add to it one fifth, giving it to the one who has been wronged. But if the person has no kinsman to whom restitution can be made, let the restitution be made to the Eternal, to the priest; in addition to the ram of expiation, whereby atonement is made on their behalf. So, too, any gift among the sacred donations that the Israelites offer shall be the priest's. And each shall retain their sacred donations: each priest shall keep what is given to him. וַיְדַבֵּר ה׳ אֶל־מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר׃  דַּבֵּר אֶל־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אִישׁ אוֹ־אִשָּׁה כִּי יַעֲשׂוּ מִכָּל־חַטֹּאת הָאָדָם לִמְעֹל מַעַל בַּיהוָה וְאָשְׁמָה הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַהִוא׃  וְהִתְוַדּוּ אֶת־חַטָּאתָם אֲשֶׁר עָשׂוּ וְהֵשִׁיב אֶת־אֲשָׁמוֹ בְּרֹאשׁוֹ וַחֲמִישִׁתוֹ יֹסֵף עָלָיו וְנָתַן לַאֲשֶׁר אָשַׁם לוֹ׃  וְאִם־אֵין לָאִישׁ גֹּאֵל לְהָשִׁיב הָאָשָׁם אֵלָיו הָאָשָׁם הַמּוּשָׁב לַיהוָה לַכֹּהֵן  מִלְּבַד אֵיל הַכִּפֻּרִים אֲשֶׁר יְכַפֶּר־בּוֹ עָלָיו׃  וְכָל־תְּרוּמָה לְכָל־קָדְשֵׁי בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר־יַקְרִיבוּ לַכֹּהֵן לוֹ יִהְיֶה׃  וְאִישׁ אֶת־קֳדָשָׁיו לוֹ יִהְיוּ אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר־יִתֵּן לַכֹּהֵן לוֹ יִהְיֶה׃ ​​​​​

* You can tell what denomination the speaker is from, can't you? :o)

This teaches that you can't steal from a convert. This is problematic because why should converts be treated any different anyway? The rabbis grappled with this.

Numbers Rabbah 8:2 מדרש רבה במדבר ח ב

A man or a woman, etc: This bears on the text: "the Eternal loves the righteous... the Eternal watches over the stranger" [Ps. 146:8-9]

The Holy Blessed One said, in effect: "I love those who love Me." As it says, "For them that honour Me I will honour" [I Sam. 2:30]. They love Me and so I also love them. Why does the Holy Blessed One love the righteous?* Because they do not have [as the source of their worth] inheritance or family.

You find that the priests constitute a father's house, and the Levites constitute a father's house; for it says, "O house of Aaron, bless the Eternal; O house of Levi, bless the Eternal" [Ps. 135:19]. If a man desires to be a priest, he cannot be one; [if he desires to be] a Levite, he cannot be one. Why? Because his father was neither a priest nor a Levite.

But if someone, even a non-Jew, desires to be righteous, they can be so, becauser the righteous do not constitute a father's house. For this reason it says, "You who fear the Eternal, bless the Eternal" [ibid]. It does not say "O house of those that fear the Eternal," but "You who fear the Eternal", for these do not constitute a father's house, but have voluntarily come forward and loved the Holy Blessed One. The Holy Blessed One, therefore, loves them, and for this reason it says, "The Eternal loves the righteous... the Eternal watches over the stranger." The Holy Blessed One greately loves the proselytes.

איש או אשה וגו׳ הה״ד (תהלים קמו) ה׳ אוהב צדיקים וגו׳

כך אמר הקב״ה אני אוהבי אהב וכה״א (ש״א ב) כי מכבדי אכבד הם אוהבים אותי ואף אני אוהב אותם ולמה הקדוש ברוך הוא אוהב צדיקים שאינן נחלה אינם משפחה

את מוצא הכהנים בית אב הם הלוים בית אב הם שנאמר (תהלים קלו) בית אהרן ברכו את ה׳ בית הלוי ברכו את ה׳ אם מבקש אדם להיות כהן אינו יכול להיות לוי אינו יכול למה שלא היה אביו לא כהן ולא לוי

אבל אם מבקש אדם להיות צדיק אפילו גוי יכול הוא שאינו בית אב לכך הוא אומר יראי ה׳ ברכו את ה׳ בית יראי ה׳ לא נאמר אלא יראי ה׳ אינו בית אב אלא מעצמם נתנדבו ואהבו להקב״ה

לפיכך הקדוש ברוך הוא אוהבם לכך נאמר (שם קמו) ה׳ אוהב צדיקים וגו׳ הרבה הקב״ה אוהב את הגרים

* Righteousness is not linked to familial status. It's a different model to that of priests and Levites.

† The same verb used for a freewill—personal—offering.

‡ Because (as stated in the Tanḥuma, the Israelites accepted the Torah at Sinai upon G-d effectively forcing them into it, but the convert did so of their own free will.

To what may this be compared? To a king who had a flock which used to go out to the field and come in at evening. So it was each day. Once a deer came in with the flock, went around with the goats, and grazed with them. When the flock came in to the enclosure, the deer came in with them; when they went out to graze he went out with them. The king was told: "A certain deer has joined the flock and is grazing with them every day. He goes out with them and comes in with them." The king felt affection for him. When he went out into the field, he would decree: "Let him have good pasture, such as he likes; no man shall beat him; be careful with him!" When he came in with the flock, the king would tell them, "Give him to drink"; and he loved him very much. למה הדבר דומה למלך שהיתה לו צאן והיתה יוצאת בשדה ונכנסת בערב כן בכל יום פעם אחד נכנס צבי* אחד עם הצאן הלך לו אצל העזים היה רועה עמהם נכנסה הצאן לדיר נכנס עמהם יצאת לרעות יצא עמהם אמרו למלך הצבי הזה נלוה עם הצאן והוא רועה עמהם כל יום ויום יוצא עמהם ונכנס עמהם היה המלך אוהבו בזמן שהוא יוצא לשדה היה מפקיד רועה יפה לרצונו לא יכה אדם אותו הזהרו בו ואף כשהוא נכנס עם הצאן היה אומר להם תנו לו וישתה והיה אוהבו הרבה

* This word (צבי, "deer") has connotations of beauty and elegance. [Which, it later strikes me, may be suggestive to the ancient Jewish reader of the Greeks.]

The servants said to him: "Sovereign! You possess so many goats, you possess so many lambs, you possess so many kids, and you never caution us about them; yet you give us instructions every day about this deer!" Said the king to the: "The flock have no choice; whether they want or not, it is their nature to graze in the field all day and to come in at evening to sleep in the fold. The deer, however, sleeps in the wildernesss. It is not in their nature to come into places inhabited by man. Shall we then not account it as a merit to this one which has left behind the whole of the broad, vast, wilderness, the abode of all the beasts, and has come to stay in the courtyards?" אמרו לו מרי כמה תישים יש לך כמה כבשים יש לך כמה גדיים יש לך ואין את מזהירנו ועל הצבי הזה בכל יום ויום את מצוינו אמר להם המלך הצאן רוצה ולא רוצה כך היא דרכה לרעות בשדה כל היום ולערב לבא לישן בתוך הדיר הצביים במדבר הם ישנים אין דרכם ליכנס לישוב בני אדם לא נחזיק טובה לזה שהניח כל המדבר הרחב הגדול במקום כל החיות ובא ועמד בחצר

This is problematic because no matter how long the deer goes with the sheep, it will always be a deer. [The Rambam discusses people who have problems with converts who say אלהי אבותינו.] On the one hand this text is very positive about converts... however on the other there is this tension between the wilderness of the non-Jew and the domesticity of the Jew.

(Also, though it is a very positive description, it does imply the non-Jew lives in "the abode of the beasts"!)

In like manner, ought we not to account it as a merit to the proselyte who has left behind their family and father's house, have left behind people and all the other peoples of the world, and has chosen to come to us? Accordingly, God has provided the convert with special protection, for God exhorted Israel that they shall be very careful in relation to the proselytes so as not to do them harm... כך אין אנו צריכין להחזיק טובה לגר שהניח משפחתו ובית אביו והניח אומתו וכל או״ה ובא לו אצלנו לכן הרבה עליו שמירה שהזהיר את ישראל שישמרו עצמם מהם שלא יזיקו להם

Note that we are also both the sheep and the shepherd being instructed by the king. It is not in the nature of shepherds to look after deer, hence the need for speciail instructions.

The convert challenges the way Jews think about Jews—and they are aware of this. The deer changes the nature of the flock.

We should be not caught up in "who is a Jews" debates, but "how wonderful it is that they have decided to come into the courtyard". We have to be grateful for converts—this is one of a number of [Midrashic/Talmudic] passages with this theme.

Jewish learning notes index

Date: 2008-07-18 12:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rav-hadassah.livejournal.com

I am feeling so loved and cuddled right now, it's great!:-D

Thanks for the sources, good stuff to know. I knew most of the stories but it's good to have a little more context.

There's of course also the sugya in Masechet Shabbat 31A which is also a lot of fun :-)

Take care!

P.S. I have a friend here in L.A. who likes writing fiction - like you - especially round Biblical/Jewish themes. And I thought about your Bar Kochba story and your Eliyahu story. Can I put him in touch with you? Just lemme know.

Date: 2008-07-18 11:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lethargic-man.livejournal.com
P.S. I have a friend here in L.A. who likes writing fiction - like you - especially round Biblical/Jewish themes. And I thought about your Bar Kochba story and your Eliyahu story. Can I put him in touch with you? Just lemme know.



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