Friday, April 19, 2013

What Is the Most Frequently-Mentioned Mitzvah in the Torah?

Question of the Week, Acharei-Mot - Kedoshim:

This week we read a double portion - Acharei-Mot and Kedoshim - which makes for a long Torah reading. The second portion of this double-header, Kedoshim, is replete with significant mitzvot that regulate behavior between people: Don't lie, don't take revenge, love your neighbor as yourself, and many others. 

It also contains the most frequently-mentioned mitzvah in the Torah -- what is it? 

Answer


In our parsha it is written:

And if a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be unto you as one of your citizens, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. 
(Leviticus 19:33)

The prohibition of discriminating against the stranger who lives among us is cited no less than 36 times in the Torah, and according to some opinions, 46 times! (see Talmud, Baba Metzia 59b). This emphasizes the importance the Torah attaches to treating every person equally, since all were created in the image of God.

As Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch wrote in his commentary to Exodus 22:20: 

The dignity and human rights of any person are not dependent on their origin, nationality or possessions, and not related to any outside factor… and the special reason given in the Torah – “for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt” – comes to reinforce this rule and prevent any transgressions of this principle . . . your suffering in Egypt was based on being “strangers” there, and as such, you were not entitled, according to the prevailing mentality, to become a nation, to have a homeland, or even to exist, and they believed that  they had a right to treat you according to their caprice. As strangers, you were denied rights in Egypt, and this was the whole basis for the slavery and suffering that the Egyptians imposed on you.

It is fascinating to see how these Jewish sources were quoted in Israeli judicial decisions. In an Israeli Supreme Court decision from 1972, Justice Zvi Berenson quoted this Halakhic concept when he invalidated a decision by state authorities to prevent a German Christian lady from buying real estate in Zichron Yaakov:

From its earliest days, when it was residing in their land, the Jewish people knew the feelings of the stranger, and treated the stranger with justice and honesty . . . In several places the Torah warns us not to do wrong to the strangers, not to pressure them, not to deceive them, and not to do an injustice toward them . . . As we won back our independence in the State of Israel, we must be very careful not to discriminate in any way toward any law-abiding non-Jewish person who resides with us, and wants to live in their way, according to their religion and beliefs.

(Bagatz 392/72 Emma Berger vs. District Planning Committee, PD 27(2) 771).


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