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'For the Lord your G-d is the ultimate Supreme Being and the highest possible Authority… who does not give special consideration to any one, not does He take bribes.' (10:17)
Rashi explains that a person cannot bribe G-d. Unlike humans, money is not relevant to His welfare.
According to the Gur Aryeh, the "bribe" is the act of trying to cover up a sin by bringing a Temple offering or making a donation to tzedaka, instead of honest and thorough teshuva.
The Sforno takes a similar but broader perspective, with "a good deed does not extinguish a bad deed". G-d will not reduce the punishment for a transgression through of the merit of a mitzvah that the sinner performs. There is no trade-off. Strictness in one area of mitzvah observance does not give a license for neglect in another area. For example, investing a fortune in time and money for an etrog that is not merely kosher, but mehadrin min ha-mehadrin will not excuse the same person for avoiding a person in genuine need who is not "quite in his circle", or for willfully putting someone to shame in public.
Indeed, "He does not take bribes" is immediately followed with:
'He (G-d) brings justice to the orphan and the widow; He loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing' (10:18).
The Torah immediately translates that into human practice:
'You shall love the stranger. For you were strangers in the land of Egypt' (10:19).
As the Ramban explains, the Israelites should recall fate of the Egyptians as a lesson that G-d does not tolerate the persecution of strangers.
The Talmud (Megillah 31a) contrasts the description of G-d in the first verse quoted with the work of G-d in the second. The first describes His greatness, indeed, His absolute power. The second stresses His "humility", His concern for the weakest and most vulnerable members of society. And the words "You shall love the stranger. For you were strangers in land of Egypt" demand that the Israelites emulate G-d and show similar humility. Failure to do so will not be offset by the merit of other mitzvot. Punctiliousness in bein adam la-makom will not compensate for neglect of bein adam la-chaveiro.
Such human concern may be exemplified by the Chafetz Chaim (1839-1933) who not only wrote learned treatises on kodashim (the specialist area of the detailed intricacies of the Temple offerings in the future Messianic era), but took time and effort to address the needs of the regular householder with the Mishna Berura, the interests of young children with volumes of story-style parables, and also the public need to avoid gossip with Shemirat Halashon.
And that is also "loving the stranger": where possible, making one's work accessible to the public rather than just to the learned elite. Such a personality enriches the lives of "strangers", who are not just the personally unacquainted, but "strangers" to those ideas.
Just before writing this I visited one of the local branch offices of the Israeli Ministry of the Interior, which handled the affairs of a strictly defined area of south Jerusalem. Three panic-stricken young people entered and got stopped by security with "You're outside our geographical area of responsibility". Just at that moment a senior person came by, listened to their story in broken Hebrew, and with a wave of the hand declared "You're new immigrants. I'll take care of you. Come with me". Humility…
You shall love the stranger…
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
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