Parashat Ki Tavo

Friday, September 8, 2017 / 17 Elul, 5777
Parashat Ki Tavo Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8
Dear Friends,
The Torah commands us:  “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 23:9)
The Torah commands us:  “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him.” (Leviticus 19:33)
The Torah commands us:  “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (19:18)
And this week’s Torah portion reminds us in a few short verses our migration story.  We share it every year around our Seder tables at Passover: “My father was a fugitive Aramean.  He went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there; but there he became a great and very populous nation.  The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us; they imposed heavy labor upon us. We cried to the Eternal One and God heard our plea and saw our plight, our misery and our oppression.  The eternal one freed us from Egypt by a mighty hand, by and outstretched arm, and awesome power and by signs and portents.” (Deuteronomy 26:5-9)
Who today will lend a mighty hand and outstretched arm to our “fugitive Arameans?”  Will you?
Our sacred texts are very clear. We care for the stranger in our midst.  The Torah commands us thirty six different times to love the stranger because we were strangers in the land of Egypt.
If these texts aren’t convincing, maybe a personal story is.  Do you have a powerful migration story?  Your own or someone else’s? Here’s one about a remarkable young woman I met almost two years ago.
Diana was our Rotary Club’s Student of the Month.  The second youngest of five children, she grew up very poor, having to collect aluminum cans and water bottles to help put food on the table for her family. Her mother made her clothes because she couldn’t afford to buy new clothing.  Diana was self-conscious about her socio-economic status, resentful of the conditions in which she was forced to live.
Diana was also very determined to make a different life for herself. She excelled at San Pedro High School, overcoming huge obstacles along the way. She volunteered over 1000 hours at the Boys and Girls Club helping guide other students like herself. She received a prestigious award that enabled her to enroll at UCSD where she is majoring in bio medical engineering.  She is one of the most inspirational students I’ve ever met and all of us in Rotary were eager to see where she would end up in a few years.
Sadly this week a barrier has been built on the road she was travelling along towards fulfilling the American dream because I learned this week that Diana is a beneficiary of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).
Diana did not choose to come to this country illegally.  Her mother made that choice for her. Should a promising, hardworking young woman like Diana be punished for her mother’s decisions?
Rescinding DACA is an affront to our Torah, to Judaism, to Christianity and to the moral fiber of our nation. Jews know what it is like to be marginalized, despised, and turned away.  That is why just about every Jewish, Christian and Muslim organization I can find has denounced this decision.
Maybe immigrant justice is your issue, maybe it’s not.  However if you are as angry as I am, you can do something.  Call your elected representatives in Washington D.C.  Call the White House. Let your voice be heard.  Our elected representatives in Washington D.C. issued strong statements criticizing the decision of the administration, nevertheless they still need to hear from us. When they work together (God willing) to create smart and bold bi-partisan legislation to return rights and protections to DACA recipients, all will know how firmly Californians stand behind our immigrant children, many of whom may have been your own children’s classmates.
Thirty six times, the Torah declares. Not once or twice.  Thirty six times.  “Love the stranger because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”  Respond with love.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Charles K. Briskin