In this week’s Torah lesson we encounter the greatest number of commandments listed in a single reading. Among them is the following: Do not hate an Edomite, because he is your brother. Do not hate an Egyptian, because you were a stranger in his land. (Deut. 23:8)
We may read that verse casually but think about the context. Moses delivers this commandment to the children of former slaves. The generation about to enter the Promised Land are the offspring of those whom Moses led out of slavery in Egypt, those who stood at Mt. Sinai and saw the glory of God on the mountain. The experiences of their parents and grandparents are vivid memories. And of all things, God through Moses commands them (doesn’t suggest mind you but commands) to forsake hatred toward the very ones who had enslaved and abused their forefathers. They’d imposed hard labor on them, threw scores of their male infants into the Nile and made their lives difficult beyond our understanding.
Yet 40 years later, Moses utters this commandment as if none of those atrocities had happened! In fact, he implies that the children of Israel owed the Egyptians a debt of gratitude for their hospitality!! Isn’t this the same Moses who at the command of God instructed the Israelites to observe the Passover every year to remember what they’d been through and celebrate their divine deliverance? Why would God give such a commandment?
The answer is as simple as it is profound. To be free, you must let go of hate. The children of the former slaves must not continue in a slavery mentality for mental and emotional chains are the most devastating of all.
Hatred, bitterness, resentment, rage and the urge to ‘get even’ betray a profound lack of understanding regarding true freedom. What Moses is teaching them is that while they must remember the past, they must not live in it. Anyone who allows the past to define who they are in the present has not yet been set free.
When the Torah commands “you shall remember that you were slaves in Egypt” it never intends the remembrance as justification for hatred or revenge. Rather it is always to urge the children of Israel to learn from what they experienced and never impose the same on others but instead to build a compassionate and just society.
The message repeated several times: Don’t subject others to hard labor or impose burdens such as your fathers endured. Be careful to remember the rest and freedom of every seventh day. Give generously to the poor. Let them eat from the leftovers of the harvest. Share your blessings with others. Don’t deprive people of their livelihood, etc.
The framework of the Torah is built on this principle: you know in your heart what it feels like to be the victim of persecution, therefore do not persecute others.
“Remember” – not to live in the past but to prevent its repetition at your own hands.
To experience what God calls freedom, the enslaved must be able to let go of antagonism to his former master.
Hatred and freedom cannot coexist. To create a non-persecuting society out of people who have been persecuted, the chains of the past must be broken; memories must transform into constructive outlets that serve to build a different future.
Freedom requires the abandonment of hate, because hate is the abdication of freedom. It projects our conflicts onto someone or something else we can then blame, refusing to accept personal responsibility for the present. Moses’ message to those who were about to enter the promised land: that a free society can be built only by people who define themselves by love of God, not hatred of the other.
In Tune with Torah this week = how much do we let ourselves be defined by our past instead of learning from it and moving on into the future free of negativity, bitterness and hatred? Forgiveness and letting go is a fundamental requisite for experiencing the freedom God created us to enjoy.