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Two Minutes of Torah: Ekev - Communal Love

Margaret Meade is famous for saying “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” Whenever I hear this quote, I always think about the campaign to free the Refuseniks from the Soviet Union. When Natan Sheransky emerged to freedom, he said “It was because of the housewives and the students that I was free. It was because of the group of people coming together in solidarity and support of one another and their values, that he was released.”

In the Book of Deuteronomy  that we are currently reading, frequently we are given an instruction or commandment that we should LOVE. Most famously for us, we are told “Veahvta et Adonai Elohecha” – you should love Adonai, your God. These words of Torah eventually find their way into our liturgy as part of the Sh’ma. In that moment, the Commandment to love God is an individual commandment. We are told you shall love God, in the singular.

In this week’s Torah portion of Ekev, which has several references to love, in terms of again loving God – it also then talks to us about our obligation to love the stranger. We read that God loves the stranger, but then we read the instruction “Veahvtem et hager kigerim haitem b’eretz mitzrahim” – and you shall love the stranger because you were strangers in the Land of Egypt.

When we translate this passage, we lose an important element that is there in Hebrew. When we’re told to love God, we’re told “Veahvta et Adonai.” Here, we’re told “Veahvtem et hager." This is a communal command, a communal instruction that we collectively should love the stranger – not simply individually.

We might wonder why the command to love God is singular while the command to love the stranger is in the plural. I think it’s because loving the stranger requires us to change the way that society functions, because all too often the stranger is vilified and demonized for being something other. Only when we come together as a community, when we love the stranger communally, can we impact society and make the kind of difference that’s necessary for the stranger to be fully accepted and become a part of society.

We need to come together in the love of the stranger because individually we cannot change things. It’s only when we come together as a community, the communal love, that the stranger can truly be welcomed and accepted.

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