Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Yom Tov of Gerim

Shvios is coming. Sometimes I call it the Yom Tov of gerim.
The parsha describing Matan Torah (the giving of Torah) is identified with a convert: Yisro. We read an entire sefer (book of Bible) about another convert (Rus) on that day. One of the most famous gerim in the history, Graf Walentyn Potocki, gave his life for G-d and his Torah on this very day. There are many other facts linking this day to gerim.
I have previously attempted to elucidate the term ger according to its meaning in Lashon Hakoidesh (the Holy Tongue). The Hebrew of the Scriptures and other Jewish writings is more like a code and cryptogram than a language. This incredible quality of verbal communication and revelation of the Holy Tongue allows reader to detect multiple meanings and ideas compressed in three or even two letters of the shoresh (root) of every Hebrew word.
The shoresh gimel raish” is one of those roots which are a common base for multiple words. Rabbi Hirsch for example, finds the shoresh GR within following words: alien, stranger, uprooted, land-less, without support for his feet, without roots, and someone without rights. This shoresh is used also to mean: cast away, without the ties, separated, uncovered, without protection of skin, naked. All of these words seem to have something in common--unsteadiness or instability--caused by a lack of foundation and an exposure to perhaps harmful elements.
The same two letters are also the shoresh of the word describing a Jewish convert, a person who consciously chose to submit himself to G-d and His Torah, a person who joined the chosen people of Yisrael in this most difficult task of being a representative of G-d.
It shares its root with the verbs and nouns listed above, and it therefore must have something in common with them. Let’s analyze.
What are the ‘mind conditions’ of a person who decides to become a Jew? What are the results of such a step? Is there any instability involved in the process when the person recognizes the path given by the Creator?
Even before that: is there any instability caused by the denial of existing conditions, e.g., cutting off the ties with the past? Conditions received from parents, teachers, and the environment? Conditions which at a certain moment lay in the rubble of disillusionment?
I believe that the ultimate personal instability is where one reaches a point in life when everything calls for reevaluation and change--but change coming from a deep desire to find answers and the truth. That moment when the dramatic change of life occurs might be called the “moment of geirus.”
It is the time when spiritual transformation takes place, transformation which gradually bears fruit later, in ways unexpected to ger at the beginning of the transformation. Once he gives his life to his Creator all the way, he is ready to accept anything from the Giver of Life. He finds his support in nothing but G-d.
It takes time and effort to climb up the ladder of self-sanctification, but it starts somewhere on the bottom of a spiritual search where the answer can be only One: I must serve my Creator. I need to serve my Creator. I love to serve my Creator.
For Yaacov Avinu, this moment happened when he awoke up from his dream and recognized that Hashem was much closer than he had thought. “Uchain yaish Hashem bamukoim hazeh vunochi lo yudati--In truth G-d is in this place! And I did not know it.” (See the commentary of RSRH on this verse, parshas Vayeytze 27:16.)
This new awareness creates a tremendous responsibility which the person can not, must not turn his back to. “Vairu--and he was afraid.” Can he undertake this responsibility? Will he have strength and courage to bring this awareness of G-d to the rest of humanity? Even to his own children? Will his children follow his path? Will they understand their mission of being a mamleches kohanim--a kingdom of priests, people leading the rest of the humanity to find their way back to the lost Gan Eden?
For approximately 60 years (see Ramban), Moishe Rabeinu was a fugitive from Pharaoh. Wandering from one land to another, taking jobs as commander in chief in one country and shepherd in another. At this time of his life he was Moishe but not yet Rabeinu.
The last place of his residence before return to Egypt was in Midian. According to the Midrash, it cost him 10 years of his life being imprisoned by Pharaoh’s adviser: Yisro. After 10 years he became Yisro’s son-in-law. Soon after, his wife Tzipoira give a birth to Moishe’s bchor--first born. Moishe named boy Gershom because: “ger huisi ba eretz nachriu--I was a ger (immigrant) in a foreign land.”
Chazal ask the questions: where someone can be a Ger if not in foreign land? Was not Moishe still in the Land of Midian? Why does he says that: ger huisi--I was--and not ger ani--I am? We may also ask: was not Moishe a ger already, in other lands, for 60 years of his life? Or is there more in his expression?
This was Moishe Rabeinu (our teacher). He was a the ultimate seeker of the Truth and the finder of ultimate Truth. He did not find it in the Pharaoh’s court, he did not find it as warrior in land of Kush, he did not find it anywhere else.
He was ready to settle and maybe even give up his search but he could not; he was Moishe. When he, perhaps, lost all his hope, possibly in the Yisro’s dungeon, this was the time for the experience described above. His moment of geirus, his tshuva, his giving up everything for his Creator for G-d of his fathers.
Michtav me’Eliahu” call this moment of life which I call the moment of geirus an “awakening from below.” For Moishe, it was a decisive moment in his life. Soon after this experience came the most important moment in his private life (Matan Torah was a more public event), an awakening from Above. Moishe met the G-d of his fathers in the desert of Sinai, and he was sent with most important mission in the history of mankind.
At the bush, he was still uncertain, and like his great-grandfather Yaacov, he was afraid. We see a man who knows that there is nothing better than the service of Creator. But will he have enough strength to lead? Will people listen to him? There, in Mitzraim, his people were waiting for him; they were already close to the last gate of Tuma (impurity). All hope was lost; they were on the brink of spiritual annihilation as Chazal describes it.
One more time Torah use this word which seem to have meaning much deeper than we usually understand. Torah calls them gerim: Ki gerim heyisem ba’eretz Mitzraim--because you were gerim in land of Egypt.”
Matys Weiser

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