Monday, May 21, 2007

Naso: Why Converts Are Great

Relevant to Naso, as it occurs in Bamidbar Rabba, as well as to Shavuot and Rut. I saw a beautiful midrash Rabba about why Hashem loves the convert.

The midrash discusses how various groups require yichus to enter. Thus, we have in Tehillim 118:
ב יֹאמַר-נָא יִשְׂרָאֵל: כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ. 2 So let Israel now say, for His mercy endureth for ever,
ג יֹאמְרוּ-נָא בֵית-אַהֲרֹן: כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ. 3 So let the house of Aaron now say, for His mercy endureth for ever.
ד יֹאמְרוּ-נָא יִרְאֵי ה: כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ. 4 So let them now that fear the LORD say, for His mercy endureth for ever.
We have bet Levi, and bet Aharon. But anyone, even a gentile, can be a tzaddik, a righteous person, and join those that fear the LORD. (I was unclear if this meant by converting.)

Further, the midrash makes a mashal of a king who has a flock of sheep, and a deer joins the flock, living in the way of the sheep. The king commands the shepherds to be especially careful, and watchful, over the deer. "Why?" -- ask the shepherds. "Do you not have many many sheep?" The king answers that living in this way is the natural way of these sheep, whereas the deer is unique in that it chose to live in this domesticated way.

Indeed, many Jews who are FFB (Frum From Birth) did not specifically choose to be Jewish. They were (luckily) born that way. It is natural to proceed along this course, in the way they were raised. On the other hand, converts -- and baalei teshuva as well -- made the choice to become Jewish and religious.

Sure, we have Shavuot every year, celebrating the acceptance of the Torah, where we relive naaseh veNishma. But in many cases we keep Torah because it is natural, having been brought up this way. It is something else entirely to accept the Torah, starting from not having Torah. This is an impressive act, and it is fitting to celebrate Ruth, who stated:
טז וַתֹּאמֶר רוּת אַל-תִּפְגְּעִי-בִי, לְעָזְבֵךְ לָשׁוּב מֵאַחֲרָיִךְ: כִּי אֶל-אֲשֶׁר תֵּלְכִי אֵלֵךְ, וּבַאֲשֶׁר תָּלִינִי אָלִין--עַמֵּךְ עַמִּי, וֵאלֹהַיִךְ אֱלֹהָי. 16 And Ruth said: 'Entreat me not to leave thee, and to return from following after thee; for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God;
יז בַּאֲשֶׁר תָּמוּתִי אָמוּת, וְשָׁם אֶקָּבֵר; כֹּה יַעֲשֶׂה ה לִי, וְכֹה יוֹסִיף--כִּי הַמָּוֶת, יַפְרִיד בֵּינִי וּבֵינֵךְ. 17 where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried; the LORD do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me.'

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