Don’t be a stranger.
“Marriage is a great way to find the one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life” – Comedian Rita Rudner
Sometimes we are kinder to strangers than we are to our loved ones. Perhaps it is because our tolerance for the things we dislike about our families diminishes over time? We are probably spending more time thinking of their negative qualities far more than their positive? Usually, it is not because we have hit the end of the line and are ready to cut off ties, in reality, we might have tremendous guilt after we blow up at them. How can we learn to tolerate the idiosyncrasies of our loved ones? How can we make our loved ones not feel so estranged?
The Torah has a principle that a born Jew can never renounce their Judaism even should they convert out of the faith. In the 1960s the famous “Brother Daniel” controversy erupted in Israel, highlighting this concept. Oswald Rufeisen escaped the Nazis in a Polish Convent and grew to embrace their religion, years later he applied for citizenship and the Israeli government denied his requests. The Bet Din and the Chief Rabbis, on the other hand, ruled the exact opposite. From the view of the Torah, a Jew always remains a Jew, no matter their choices.
However, an interesting distinction to this law is made regarding Passover observance. Despite the Torah’s staunch policy where even a practicing minister of a different religion will never lose their status as a Jew, there is an instance where that same person is forbidden from joining the community. G-d says to Moshe and Aharon (Ex. 12:43) “This is the statute of the Korban Pesach: no estranged shall partake of it.” While the entire nation travels to Jerusalem to partake of the Pesach Lamb offering, a person who had renounced their faith will be banned from joining. Although no amount of sins will change the fundamental fact that once a Jew always a Jew, in this case, the apostate is not allowed to join and partake of this mitzvah.
One of the most commonly asked questions is the issue of hypocrisy in religious observances, such as “what is the point of lighting Shabbat candles if I don’t keep Shabbat?.” The traditional view is that each commandment is a separate obligation. If you have lit Shabbat candles or other good deeds, you have done that mitzvah, failure in other areas will not affect the additional obligations. So in the case of an apostate why is he disavowed from the main mitzvah of Pesach?
The commentaries explain that this law is the only mitzva that an apostate is forbidden from participating in because the Korban Pesach is offered as a sign to commemorate entering the covenant of faith and would be improper to feed it to someone who represents the opposite ideals.
But an interesting Chassidic take delves a bit deeper into the wording of the verse. The Korbon Pesach was a culinary experience allowing us to have a literal taste of freedom. However, the Torah is explaining that those who have been estranged are numb to it and can’t feel its taste. The wording “no estranged shall partake of it” can refer to those who have been disenchanted physically and religiously but it can also refer to someone who is a “stranger” to the words of the Torah. It could even be a Torah observant “orthodox” Jew but is a stranger to the flavour of spirituality. Excluding the stranger is not a deliberate rejection. Rather, by definition the estranged are not able to participate, they are missing the taste and flavour of Pesach.
The key to caring for our loved ones and keeping them close is appreciating them and realising how important they are to our life. The Torah instructs us to not be a “stranger” to our loved ones, and to not be a “stranger to God, acquire a taste for Godliness! It doesn’t matter our level of religiosity, what matters is that we are not an outsider. As we enter the month of Nissan the month of Freedom where our religion was born we must remember this message. God took us out to have a relationship with us, it is up to us to get to know Him and foster that connection.
Chabad North QLD inc. is a division of Chabad of RARA offers Jewish education, outreach and social service programming for families and individuals of all ages, backgrounds and affiliations.