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Torah Attitude: Parashas Ki Seitzei: Kindness lives forever
Ammonites and Moabites are restricted from marrying Jewish spouses. The Talmud teaches that this only refers to the male members of these nations. The Torah recounts the horrible things the Egyptians did to the Jewish people, yet they are permitted to intermarry. Rashi explains that the difference is that the Egyptians afflicted the bodies of the Jewish people, but the Moabites and Ammonites afflicted Jewish souls. The Egyptians calculated that most likely the family of Joseph had some of his amazing talents, and Egypt would benefit greatly from having his family join their economy. No matter how harshly we were treated by the Egyptians before the exodus, the Torah expects the Jewish people to remember and show our gratitude for the initial benefits given to us by the Egyptians.
Ammonites and Moabites restricted
This week's Torah portion states: "An Ammonite or a Moabite shall not enter the congregation of G'd, even after ten generations, to eternity, because they did not greet you with bread and water on the road when you were leaving Egypt and because they hired Bilaam to curse you" (Devarim 23:4-6).
Females not restricted
This prohibition does not mean that these two nations cannot convert to Judaism. It means that they can never marry a Jewish spouse. The Talmud teaches that this only refers to the male members of these two nations, not to the females, as they were not expected to come and greet the travelers (Yevamot 73a). This is how Ruth, the ancestor of King David, who came from the nation of Moab, was able to marry Boaz and set in motion the royal dynasty. Rashi quotes a further reason the males of these two nations are not allowed to intermarry with us as they instigated and caused the Jewish men to sin with immorality and idolatry. In Parashas Pinchas, we learned how the Jewish males were tricked into entering the tents were they were seduced to commit immoral acts.
Egyptians not restricted
The Torah goes on to state: "You shall not reject an Egyptian, for you were a sojourner in his land. Children born to them in the third generation may enter the congregation of G'd" (Devarim 23:8-9). If we were asked who would be preferable to intermarry with the Jewish people after conversion, the Moabites and the Ammonites may have been a more likely choice than the Egyptians. After all, the Torah recounts and our sages elaborate on the horrible things the Egyptians did to the Jewish people. They drowned the newborn Jewish males in the Nile. They used Jewish children as bricks in their buildings. They inflicted us with hard labour and treated us very cruelly. So why does the Torah permit the Egyptians to intermarry with us and not the male Moabites and Ammonites? Is not the cruelty of the Egyptians much worse than the acts of these two other nations?
Lose share in world to come
Rashi explains that the difference is that the Egyptians inflicted the bodies of the Jewish people, but the Moabites and Ammonites afflicted Jewish souls. The Torah attitude in this regard may somewhat surprise us. One who causes another to sin is worse than one who kills. Those who are killed "only" lose their share of this world. But those who sin may lose their share both in this world and the world to come.
Egyptians initially hospitable
Furthermore, the Torah expressly states that the Moabites and Ammonites are barred from intermarrying because they did not greet the Jewish people with food and water. On the other hand, when Jacob and his family first came to Egypt, they were given Goshen, the finest land in the country, as a new homeland. Even though the Egyptians would later treat the Jewish people with great cruelty, their initial treatment was one of kindness and hospitable conduct.
The fact that the Egyptians were not acting altruistically does not change this. As the Talmud points out, (Berachot 63b), the Egyptians calculated that most likely the family of Joseph had some of his amazing talents, and Egypt would benefit greatly from having his family join their economy. The Torah records Pharaoh's excitement of having Joseph's family to watch over his livestock for him (Beresheit 47:6). This was one of the many times in history when nations opened their borders to the Jewish people in anticipation of the economic gains that were expected to follow.
There is yet another question that needs clarification. The Moabites and Ammonites were not the only nations to close their borders to the Jewish people, rather than to come out and greet them. So why are only their males barred from intermarrying? The Ramban explains that these two nations were descendants of Lot, the nephew of Abraham. Lot was an orphan. His uncle, Abraham, raised him as part of his family. He brought his nephew into his house; he taught him how to earn a living. He showered him with great wealth and opportunity. He risked his own life to rescue him from kidnappers. The nations of Moab and Ammon owed their existence to Abraham. So when the Jewish people, emerged from the desert, it was expected that these two nations would recall the benefits given to them by Abraham by providing food and water to his descendants. In fact, the Moabites did sell them food and water, but sinned by hiring Bilaam to curse the Jews.
The Torah attitude
The Torah here teaches to what extent one should remember a favour and express one's gratitude. The Torah attitude goes far beyond normal expectations. Six generations had passed since the time Abraham provided for Lot. Nevertheless, the Torah expects the descendants of Lot to remember and show their gratitude hundreds of years later. Similarly, no matter how harshly we were treated by the Egyptians before the exodus, the Jewish people are expected to remember and show our gratitude for the initial benefits given to us when our forefathers settled in Goshen.
Pleasant and peaceful lives
In our daily lives, we continually receive benefits from others. As our sages point out, even if these people have personal, even selfish reasons for providing us with benefits, we are still obligated to remember and appreciate every benefit we receive. Each time we return the Torah scrolls to the ark, we say "the ways of the Torah are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace" (Mishleh 3:17). If we would train ourselves to remember every kindness extended to us, in accordance with the attitudes of the Torah, how pleasant and peaceful our lives would be!
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network