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The voice of the stranger in our midst:Immigration Reform?

Achrei Mot/Kedoshim

Leviticus 16:1 -20:27

Again this week we have another double portion- Achrei Mot/Kedoshim. In the section of Kedoshim in chapter 19 we read from verse 9-10 the instructions about how to help sustain the poor in our midst. “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not pick your vineyard bare or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and the stranger; I Adonai am your God.” These instructions apply to large farms and small gardens. The four corners are reserved property. Just when you think you own all of the land, just when you think the harvest is all yours- the Torah comes to teach you that it isn’t. The message loud and clear is that God owns the land and the produce as well. You may think you own it but there is a higher authority. And that higher authority, God, demands that you share your bounty. Yes, this is wealth redistribution. And free marketers and capitalists won’t like it. But the Torah is very clear what we have belongs first to God and is but lent to us. We are taught in this section of Torah that the path to holiness (for Kedoshim means holiness and this is the holiness code) is expressed in how we care for the least of society and how we treat one another. You might think that if you don’t own fields or produce or vineyards that somehow this doesn’t apply to you. But the message is loud and clear that we have an obligation to bring some balance to the economic disparity that surrounds us. Though today many of us are not farmers or vintners, we are commanded here to pay attention to the poor and the stranger in our midst and care for them. This instruction, if we are at all faithful, should also inform our policies. How might we apply this kind of helping hand and moral responsibility as described in the Torah in other ways? With all the talk now of shutting out undocumented workers from access to health care and education is this the way we are commanded to treat the stranger in our midst? Or does this verse call to us to care compassionately for the stranger. This is further emphasized in this section by the words: When a stranger abides in your land you shall not wrong him, the stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Lev. 19:33-34). The message is clear the stranger, the non-native requires a compassionate and equal response from us. Today we are divided as a nation over what is the way to deal with immigrants. How many legal immigrants should there be? How do we keep our borders secure? What do we do with the many undocumented and illegal immigrants already here? How do we provide in a time of economic distress and shrinking resources for all those who don’t already pay for services? Should we shut them out of being able to use the hospital? Attend public schools and universities? Getting the job skills that drive the engines of our society? Do we merely deport the stranger in our midst? These are complex questions of national security, economics and public policy. But our faith values still guide us in our decision making. And this is clear-that we have an obligation to care for those who are non-natives. Thus when I hear conservatives tell me that “illegal immigrants should be barred from emergency rooms and arrested if they appear in the hospital for any reason,” I am concerned about public health and safety. I am concerned for the individuals and their well being. I am concerned when I hear the drumbeat of xenophobia rearing its ugly head. This portion also teaches us “Love Your Neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). Perhaps that is the bottom line as we struggle with how to handle Immigration Reform in this country. E must remember that many of our own immediate family members came to this country from many different places around the world. We can and should provide a methodology for helping undocumented immigrants become documented –even if it means paying the fines for entering illegally. But we should not deny access to health care and schools that is cruel and will open us all up to health epidemics like Tuberculosis and H1N1 virus and further create greater opportunities for crime to flourish. Let’s be smart in dealing with Immigration Reform and be guided by the words of Torah. Indeed let’s begin with the premise: Love your neighbor as yourself.

2 thoughts on “The voice of the stranger in our midst:Immigration Reform?”

  1. Rabbi – this was very moving. My partner and I just returned from Israel. We took a private tour organized by Russ Lord. I promised Russ I would send you his fondest regards. I also hope to make it to the panel next Wednesday for Equality Forum but imagine you won’t have the time then to chat. You may remember you and I met years ago when you also sat on this panel and I was on Malcolm’s board; we had dinner together with other panelists at McCormick & Shnick’s.

  2. Rabbi,

    This is all very nicely put–and very apropos in the wake of the recently passed immigration legislation in Arizona. I hope you don’t mind my linking to it in my own blog– I woke up this morning wanting to write a very similar piece and found that you had framed the matter exactly as I would have. Best,


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