Protect the “Foreigners” in Our Land

Yael Eckstein  |  January 24, 2022

Yael Eckstein pointing at a temple with a gold top in Israel.

Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt. — Exodus 22:21

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Mishpatim, which means “laws,” from Exodus 21:1–24:18.

When my husband and I made aliyah, immigrating to Israel from the United States, one of the things I most looked forward to was the opportunity to be part of the majority in society. Growing up as a Jew in America, I was always in the minority.

For example, during the celebration of the Jewish holidays, my holidays were limited to our home, our synagogue, and the other Jews in our community. But out there in the wider culture, our festivals were nowhere to be seen. This never bothered me too much. Jews make up only about 2 percent of the population of the United States, so it’s understandable that the Jewish calendar doesn’t set the tone.

But now that I live in Israel, in a majority Jewish society, I can enjoy the public displays of my faith in the media and in the public sphere in general. While it is wonderful to be a part of the majority after growing up as a minority, the experience of my upbringing taught me an important lesson.

Protect the ‘Foreigners’

In this week’s Torah portion the Bible commands us: “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” The message of this verse is so relevant to the Jewish people today. The Jewish people were persecuted for so long in so many different lands. Because of this, there could easily be a tendency for Jews who have returned to our homeland to feel resentful to world. National pride in the reborn state of Israel can easily turn into disdain for outsiders as we rejoice in the opportunity to forge a Jewish society in our own land.

The Bible warns us to remember what it felt like to be a minority, a foreigner to the culture in which we lived. We must protect the “foreigners” in our land. As happy as the children of Israel were to be free and independent, God warned them, as He warns us today, to not use this newfound independence in the wrong way.

Today, the state of Israel is home to minorities of other faiths and nationalities who are not Jewish. Part of our covenantal responsibility in our land is to protect these “foreigners,” the minorities in our society, from discrimination and persecution. And, as the only democracy in the Middle East, Israel embraces freedom of religion and freedom to participate in society to all Israeli citizens.

Your Turn:

Are there newcomers or immigrants in your community? What can you do to make them feel welcome?