Messianic Education Trust
    Mishpatim  
(Exodus 21:1 - 24:18)

Shemot/Exodus 22:20   And a stranger you shall not oppress and you shall not oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Our first glance at this verse reveals that we have two Hebrew verbs translated by the same English verb: oppress. How can this be? Why does the Torah, usually so sparing with its words, appear to repeat itself? The first verb - , the Hif'il 2ms prefix form of the root , to oppress, vex (Davidson - carries the idea of treating someone violentlyFootNoteRef(1) (see for example, "[G-d's foes] said, 'Let us destroy them altogether!' They burned all God's tabernacles in the land." (Psalm 74:8, NJPS), while the second verb - , the Qal 2ms prefix form of the root , to press, squeeze, oppress, afflict (Davidson) - conveys the sense of pressure or coercion, possibly by force (see, for example, "The ass ... pressed herself against the wall and squeezed Balaam's foot against the wall" (B'Midbar 22:25, NJPS).2 In this verse, the ancient rabbis took the first verb to imply verbal harassment or abuse, and the second verb to mean theft of property. Notice that the verbs are both singular; they apply to the nation as a whole, not simply to the individuals making up the nation. Rabbi Who Is ...

Hirsch: Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888 CE), German rabbi, author and educator; staunch opponent of the Reform movement in Germany and one of the fathers of Orthodox Judaism
Hirsch deduces the the state is not to impose heavier taxes or grant lesser rights [on/to a stranger] than it does to the native-born.

The Sages of the Talmud deduce from the command "Do not wrong one another" (Vayikra 25:17, NJPS) that deals with verbal wronging, such as reminding converts of their past, shaming a friend or neighbour in public, or calling him by an embarrassing nickname. These wrongs are considered worse than monetary wronging because with the latter there can be financial restitution, while for verbal wronging no restitution is possible (b. Bava Metziah 58b). Hirsch points out that " is phonetically related to , to humble, to humilitate, and , to call something not by its right name, so means to be illegally deprived of material or spiritual possessions, to be hurt by words. Accordingly the complete implication would be: Neither by words nor by deeds shall you hurt an alien."

The verb is used in the Exodus narrative for the way the Israelites were treated in Egypt: "The cry of the Israelites has reached Me; moreover, I have seen how the Egyptians oppress them" Shemot 3:9, NJPS), The Name ...

HaShem: literally, Hebrew for 'The Name' - an allusion used to avoid pronouncing the Tetragrammaton, the so-called 'ineffable' name of G–d
HaShem tells Moshe at the bush. Umberto Cassuto says that our verse uses the same word because "it was particularly oppression that the Israelites were made to endure in Egypt:"3 Pointing out that the Talmud records that "The Torah cautions us regarding our behaviour towards a stranger no less than thirty six times (b. Bava Metzia 59b)," Who Is ...

Nechama Leibowitz: (1905-1997 CE), born in Riga, graduate of the University of Berlin, made aliyah in 1931; professor at Tel Aviv University; taught Torah for over 50 years
Nechama Leibowitz explains that "the prohibition of oppressing the stranger is thus linked by verbal association with the oppression suffered by Israel as strangers in Egypt." Under the heading, "Diving Social Justice", Walter Brueggemann sums up our text and the two similar injunctions that follow it - "do not oppress widows and orphans" (vv. 21-23) and "do not oppress the poor" (vv. 24-28) - with the comment that "Israel's protective affirmation of the socially marginal is rooted in its exodus memory and imagination."4

We should also notice that the word is used twice in our text: once at the beginning to refer to the stranger and in plural form in the middle to refer to the condition of the Israelites in Egypt. The modern Orthodox Jewish commentator on Who Is ...

Rashi: Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105 CE), French rabbi who wrote commentaries on the Torah, the Prophets and the Talmud, lived in Troyes where he founded a yeshiva in 1067; focuses on the plain meaning (p'shat) of the text, although sometimes quite cryptic in his brevity
Rashi points out that "there are two types of /ger. One is the ger toshav, the stranger-sojourner, who lives in the Land of Israel but isn't Jewish. The other is the ger tzaddik the righteous convert, who has converted to Judaism and is a full-fledged Jew." He tries to suggest that the first usage in this text is that of the convert - who mustn't be oppressed because he is in essence now a part of the community - but that the second usage is stranger-sojourner since the Israelites didn't convert to anything in Egypt.5 While his second observation is certainly true, I think his first is too far fetched and should be rejected. For the Torah's comparison to work, both usages must be the same: both the ger now in Israel and the Israelites in Egypt must be strangers out of their own land.

This leads us to ask why the ger is so liable to oppression that the Torah needs to legislate against the practice so often. Who Is ...

Abraham Ibn Ezra: (1089-1167 CE), born in Tudela, Spain; died in the South of France after wandering all around the shores of the Mediterranean and England; a philosopher, astronomer, doctor, poet and linguist; wrote a Hebrew grammar and a commentary on the Bible
Ibn Ezra starts the answer: "As a resident alien, he has no family roots in the land, so it would be easy for the citizen to wrong him ... but you must not wrong a stranger merely because you have more power than he." The Who Is ...

The Rashbam: Rabbi Samuel ben Asher (1085-1174 CE), a grandson of Rashi; lived in Northern France; worked from the plain meaning of the Hebrew text even when this contradicted established rabbinic interpretaton
Rashbam agrees, adding that the Israelites must not "pressure him into doing your work, knowing that he has no Jewish relative to take his part." The Who Is ...

Bekhor Shor: Joseph ben Isaac Bekhor Shor; a twelfth century French tosafist, commentator and poet; he lived in Orleans and was a pupil of the Rashbam and Rabbenu Tam; wrote a commentary to the Torah and made contributions to the Talmud commentaries; followed the p'shat method of interpretation in the style of Rashi, to the extent of rationalising many miracles
Bekhor Shor suggests that "since he does not know the way things work locally, it is easy to take advantage of him."

Perhaps oppressors - and the same applies to both modern and ancient oppressors think that no-one is looking,as Qohelet suggests: "I further observed all the oppression that goes on under the sun: the tears of the oppressed, with none to comfort them; and the power of their oppressors -- with none to comfort them" (Ecclesiastes 4:1, NJPS). Not so, says the Whois(Left, Ramban): "the verse implies that you should not think that the stranger has no-one to deliver him from your hands because, on the contrary, you know that when you were strangers in Egypt that HaShem saw the oppression with which the Egyptians were oppressing you and brought vengeance down upon them." Israel's historical memory of how HaShem rescued them from Egypt is a powerful reminder that He does hear and takes notice. As believers in Yeshua, we too remember that "when the fullness of time had come, G-d sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons" (Galatians 4:4-5, ESV). We too have been rescued from the oppression of sin and death!

It is important to remember, as Nahum Sarna reminds us, that "the numerous biblical prohibitions against the maltreatment of strangers are supplemented in the legislation by positive injunctions to love them," for example "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: I the L-RD am your G-d" (Vayikra 19:34, NJPS), which links the Exodus memory with the HaShem's own authority marker: He is G-d! Indeed, it is G-d's own love for the stranger that sets the example: G-d "upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and befriends the stranger, providing him with food and clothing. -- You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (D'varim 10:18-19, NJPS). As we seek to follow G-d, to walk in the footsteps of Yeshua and be conformed to His image, we to are challenge to love as He does. Terence Fretheim points out that "the pattern for a life of holiness has been provided by the holy G-d and that includes a life lived on behalf of the less fortunate. Israel has been set apart by G-d, not to a life apart from the world, but to a life of service within the world. The serve G-d is to serve the world."6

In Luke's gospel, Yeshua tells the disciples to "love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing back! Your reward will be great, and you will be children of Ha'Elyon; for He is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked." (Luke 6:35, CJB), while Paul writes, "Therefore, as the opportunity arises, let us do what is good to everyone, and especially to the family of those who are trustingly faithful" (Galatians 6:10, CJB). These are both calls to engage with those who have need, whether nominally friend or foe. James puts it in more concrete terms: "Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food, and someone says to him, "Shalom! Keep warm and eat hearty!" without giving him what he needs, what good does it do?" (James 2:15, CJB). Words alone do not fulfill our obligation to love as G-d loves. We must put it into practice. John shows how it is a reflection of our own basic relationship with G-d: "If someone has worldly possessions and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how can he be loving G-d? Children, let us love not with words and talk, but with actions and in reality!" (1 John 3:17, CJB.

1. - David J. A. Clines (ed.) The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009), page 155.

2. - David J. A. Clines (ed.) The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009), page 195.

3. - Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, (Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1983), page 291.

4. - Walter Brueggemann, "Exodus," in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary, Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 427.

5. - Avigdor Bonchek, What's Bothering Rashi: Shemos, (New York, NY: Feldheim, 1999), page 142.

6. - Terence E. Fretheim, Exodus Interpretation, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), page 247.

Further Study: Psalm 68:4-6; 1 Thessalonians 5:14-15; 1 Timothy 2:5-6

Application: Is there someone on your street who is in need, or who you pass on the way to work each morning who is a stranger and oppressed? Don't just "pass by on the other side" (Luke 10:31), but reach out a hand to offer practical help as G-d has helped you.

Comment - 08:30 16Feb20 Kate: Bless the Lord for continually reminding us how we are connected to one another! It seems human nature to see everyone who is not ourselves as a stranger! As we move towards the coming forth of one new man and the Lord's return, I appreciate the continual reminders in His Word to love one another, that we are our brother's keeper, that He has bound both Jew and Gentile over to disobedience that He might have mercy on both, and that if we cannot love man whom we can see, how can we love God whom we cannot see, etc. Thankful for this drash and the conviction to love not just in word but in deed and to do so identifying myself with the other as the same as I before the One true living God. Also recognizing that it is only through His great love that I can do so!

Comment - 10:25 16Feb20 Alison McRae Spencer: Very apposite in the current climate!

Buy your own copy of the Drash Book for Exodus/Shemot now at Amazon US or Amazon UK.

© Jonathan Allen, 2020



Messianic Trust Home Page Join Weekly Email More Weekly Drashot
Last Week Support the work of producing this weekly commentary
Next Week
Last Year - 5779 Scripture Index


Your turn - what do you think of the ideas in this drash ?

Name Display my name ? Yes No
Email Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comments.
Comments
Like most print and online magazines, we reserve the right to edit or publish only those comments we feel are edifying in tone and content.