If You Lose Your Way Follow in the Tracks of the Sheep
“The blessed Holy One scattered Israel among the peoples only so that they may accumulate converts, for it is said: And I will sow her for Myself in the earth; [and I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them who were not My people, you are My people; and they shall say, You are my God] (Hosea 2:25)—surely, a man sows a se’ah in order to harvest many korin” (BT Pesaḥim 87b, cf. Zohar 1:244a).
“Should man or woman commit any of the human offences, [to betray the trust of YHWH, that person shall bear guilt] (Numbers 5:6).
Rabbi Abbahu expounded: They that dwell under His shadow shall return (Hosea 14:8)—converts who come and take refuge in the shadow of the blessed Holy One; they shall sustain themselves with grain (ibid.)—with Talmud; and grow as the vine (ibid)—in Haggadah. Their remembrance shall be as the wine of Lebanon (ibid.): The blessed Holy one says: ‘The names of converts are as dear to Me as the wine of libation which is poured out upon the altar.’ Why is [the altar] called Lebanon? Because it מַּלְבִּין (malbin), turns white, as snow the crimes of Israel, as it says, Though your offences be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; [though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool] (Isaiah 1:18). Rabbi Shim’on son of Yoḥai says: Because all לְּבָבוֹת (levavot), hearts, rejoice in it, as is written, Lovely in heights, all the earth’s joy (Psalms 48:3). The rabbis say: on account of And My eyes and My heart shall be there for all time (1 Kings 9:3) [this is arrived at by a play on לְבָנוֹן (Levanon), Lebanon, and לֵב וְעַיִן (lev ve-ayin), ‘heart and eye’].
Another interpretation: They shall revive as the grain—they will become of equal importance with Israel, as is written, grain shall make the young men cheerful, [and new wine the young women] (Zechariah 9:17); and grow as the vine—like Israel, as is written, You carried a vine out of Egypt, [You drove away nations and planted it] (Psalms 80:9). So you will also find that just as the Torah contains a section regarding one Israelite and another and laying down that if one transgresses against another he incurs a sacrifice, as is written, Should a person offend… and dissemble with his fellow (Leviticus 5:21), so the blessed Holy One inserted a section in the Torah regarding Israel and converts, teaching that if an Israelite takes anything by violence from a convert it is as if he had taken something by violence from an Israelite. You will find that He used the expression offence of the latter—should a person offend—and in the case of one who robs a convert it is written: any of the human offences. In the case of the former it is written And it shall be, when he offends and is guilty, [he shall return the theft that he stole or the fraud that he committed…] (Leviticus 5:23), and in the case of the convert it is written, that person shall bear guilt (Numbers 5:6). In the case of the former it is written, and he shall pay back the principal (Leviticus 5:24) and in the case of the convert it is written, and he shall render back for his guilt the sum of its principal (Numbers 5:7). In the case of the former it is written, and add a fifth (Leviticus 5:23). In the case of the former it is written, and his guilt offering he shall bring to YHWH, an unblemished ram (ibid., 25), and in the case of one who robs a convert it is written, besides the ram of atonement (Numbers 5:8). Thus we learn that converts are as important as Israel, and so we have explained the text: They shall sustain themselves with grain, and grow as the vine.
Man or woman (Numbers 5:6), as is written, YHWH loves the righteous. YHWH guards sojourners (Psalms 146:8–9). Thus, the blessed Holy One said: I, all my lovers I love (Proverbs 8:17); For those who honor Me will I honor [and My spurners shall be dishonored] (1 Samuel 2:30). They love Me and so I also love them. Why does the blessed Holy One love the righteous? Because their worth is due neither to heritage nor to family. You find that the priests constitute a father’s house and the Levites constitute a father’s house; for it says, House of Aaron, bless YHWH. House of Levi, bless YHWH (Psalms 136:19). If a man desires to be a priest, he cannot be one; a Levite, he cannot be one. Why? Because his father was neither a priest nor a Levite. But if a man, even a Gentile, desires to be righteous, he can be so, because the righteous do not constitute a father’s house. Thus it says, Those who fear YHWH, bless YHWH (ibid.). It does not say: House of those that fear YHWH, but Those who fear YHWH, for these do not constitute a father’s house, but have voluntarily come forward and loved the blessed Holy One. Therefore, He loves them, and for this reason it says, YHWH loves the righteous. The blessed Holy One greatly loves converts. To what may this be compared? To a king who had a flock which used to go out to the field and come in at evening. So it was each day. Once a single deer came in with the flock. He associated with the goats and grazed with them. When the flock came in to the fold he came in with them; when they went out to graze he went out with them. The king was told: ‘A certain deer has joined the flock and is grazing with them every day. He goes out with them and comes in with them.’
The king loved him. When he went out into the field the king gave orders: ‘Let him have a lovely pasture, such as he likes; no man shall beat him; be careful with him!’ When he came in with the flock also the king would tell them, ‘Give him to drink;’ and he loved him very much. The servants said to him: ‘Master! How many he-goats do you have? How many sheep do you have? How many kids do you have? Yet you never caution us about them; yet you give us instructions every day about this deer!’ The king said to them: ‘The flock have no choice; whether they want or not, it is their nature to graze in the field all day and to come in at evening to sleep in the fold. The deer, however, sleep in the wilderness. It is not in their nature to come into places inhabited by man. Shall we then not account it as a merit to this one which has left behind the whole of the broad, vast wilderness, the abode of all the beasts, and has come to stay in the courtyard?’
In like manner, ought we not to be grateful to the convert who has left behind him his clan and his father’s house, has left behind his people, and all the other peoples of the world, and has chosen to come to us? Accordingly, He has provided him with special protection, for He warned Israel that they be very careful in relation to converts so as not to do them harm; and so indeed it says and you shall love the sojourner, [for sojourners you were in the land of Egypt] (Deuteronomy 10:19); and You shall not cheat a sojourner [and you shall not oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt] (Exodus 22:20). In the same manner also as the Torah has imposed upon one who robs another the obligation of a money payment and of a sacrifice of a ram of atonement, so the Torah has imposed upon one who robs a convert the obligation of paying him his money and of bringing a sacrifice of a ram of atonement, as is written, Man or woman. This section refers to one who robs a convert, as is written, YHWH guards sojourners. Thus He made ample provision for safeguarding them in order that they might not return to their former perversion.
Beloved are converts, for Scripture in every instance compares them to Israel, as is written, But you, Israel, are My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham [My lover] (Isaiah 41:8). ‘Love’ is used of Israel, as is written, I have loved you, says YHWH (Malachi 1:2); and ‘love’ is used of converts, as is written, and loving the sojourner to give him bread and cloak (Deuteronomy 10:18). Israel are called slaves, as is written, For Mine are the Israelites as slaves (Leviticus 25:55); and converts are called slaves, as is written, To be His slaves (Isaiah 56:6). ‘Acceptableness’ is used of Israel, as is written, And it shall be on his forehead perpetually for their acceptance [before YHWH] (Exodus 28:38); and it is used of converts, as is written, Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon My altar; [for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people] (Isaiah 56:7). ‘Ministering’ is used of Israel, as is written, But you shall be named the Priests of YHWH: men shall call you the ministers of our God (ibid. 61:6); and it is used of converts, as is written, Also the sons of the foreigner, that join themselves to YHWH, to serve Him (ibid. 56:6). ‘Preservation’ is used of Israel, for it says, For You are my hope, Master (Psalms 71:5); and it is used of converts, as is written: YHWH guards sojourners (Psalms 146:9). You will find that it is the same in the case of the four classes of devotees who stand before the Omnipresent; as it says, One shall say, I am YHWH’s (Isaiah 44:5). If One shall say, I am YHWH’s, he must belong wholly to the Omnipresent, having no admixture of offence. And another shall call himself by the name of Jacob (ibid.) refers to righteous converts. And another shall write on his hand, YHWH’s (ibid.) refers to the penitent. And surname himself by the name of Israel (ibid.) refers to the God-fearing. Thus we learn that converts are like Israel. This is the reason for the insertion of the section, Man or woman” (Bemidbar Rabbah 8:1–2).
“About Israel, it is written, And they mingled with the nations and learned their deeds (Psalms 106:35)—until they are trampled under their feet in the exile, they can not be sorted out from them. About them, David of blessed memory said, Why should I fear in evil days, when crime comes round me at עֲקֵבַי (aqevai), my heels? (Psalms 49:6). About them Solomon said, Loveliest of women, if you lose your way, follow in the עִקְבֵי (iqvei), tracks, of the sheep (Song of Songs 1:8)—of יַעֲקֹב (Ya’aqov), Jacob. About him is written concerning the primordial serpent who seduced Eve, He will boot your head and you will bite his עָקֵב (aqev), heel (Genesis 3:15). [But] after leaving exile, they are compared to apples and all matters of fragrance, as when they departed Egypt, as it says, Under the apple tree I awakened you (Song of Songs 8:5)” (Zohar 2:120b, Ra’aya Meheimna Mishpatim).