Under the Wings of Shekhinah: The Convert is Loved more than all who Stood at Mount Sinai

by tillerofthesoil

“If a convert comes to convert, one should extend a hand to him to bring him under the wings of Shekhinah” (Vayiqra Rabbah 2:9).

“Our Rabbis taught: If at the present time a man comes to be converted, he is to be told: ‘What have you seen that you came to become a convert; do you not know that Israel at the present time are persecuted and oppressed, despised, harassed and overcome by afflictions?’ If he replies, ‘I know and yet I am unworthy,’ he is accepted immediately, and is given instruction in some of the minor and some of the major mitsvot. He is informed of the crime [of the neglect of the mitsvot of] Gleanings, the Forgotten Sheaf, the Corner and the Poor Man’s Tithe. He is also told of the punishment for the transgression of the mitsvot.

Furthermore, he is told: ‘You must know that before you came to this condition, if you had eaten forbidden fat you would not have been punishable with being cut off, if you had profaned the Sabbath you would not have been punishable with stoning; but now were you to eat forbidden fat you would be punished with being cut off; were you to profane the Sabbath you would be punished with stoning.’ And as he is informed of the punishment for the transgression of the mitsvot, so is he informed of the reward granted for their fulfilment. He is told, ‘You must know that the world to come was made only for the righteous, and that Israel at the present time are unable to bear either too much prosperity, or too much suffering.’ He is not, however, to be persuaded or dissuaded too much [lit., and they do not overwhelm him nor are they too exacting].

If he accepts, he is circumcised immediately. Should any shreds [round the corona] which render the circumcision invalid remain, he is to be circumcised a second time. As soon as he is healed arrangements are made for his immediate immersion [in a ritual bath], when two learned men must stand by his side and acquaint him with some of the minor mitsvot and with some of the major ones. When he comes up after his immersion he is deemed to be an Israelite in all respects.

In the case of a woman convert, women make her sit in the water up to her neck, while two learned men stand outside and give her instruction in some of the minor mitsvot and some of the major ones” (BT Yevamot 47a).

“Why should [Abraham] not have circumcised himself at the age of forty-eight, when he recognised his Creator? So as not to shut the door in the face of converts. Then why not be circumcised at the age of eighty-five, when He spoke with him between the parts? [see Genesis 15:9–10]. In order that Isaac might issue from a holy source. Then let him be circumcised at the age of eighty-six, when Ishmael was born? Rabbi Shim’on son of Laqish said: ‘I will set up a cinnamon tree in the world: just as the cinnamon tree yields fruit as long as you manure and tend around it, so [shall Abraham be] even when his blood runs sluggishly and his passions and desires have ceased’ [i.e., the blessed Holy One promised to renew Abraham’s virility, precisely, by means of circumcision]” (Bereshit Rabbah 46:2).

“‘O gentle Hillel, blessings rest on your head for bringing me under the wings of Shekhinah!” (BT Shabbat 31a).

“Teach us Rabbi: If a convert converts on the eve of Passover, when is he allowed to eat his paschal lamb? So did our Rabbis teach: House of Shammai says: Let him immerse [in a ritual bath] and eat his paschal lamb in the evening. But House of Hillel says: He who separates from his foreskin is considered as if he departed from the grave [i.e., he has only to wash his hands like one who returns from the cemetery, and then he may partake straight away, cf. BT Pesaḥim 92a; Mekhilta de-Rabbi Shim’on bar Yoḥai, 12:48].

Rabbi Shim’on son of Laqish said to them: The convert is loved more than all who stood at Mount Sinai. Why? For had they not seen the thunder, the flames, the lightning, the mountain quaking, and the sound of the ram horns, they would not have accepted the Kingdom of Heaven upon themselves. Yet, this one who has not seen any of these, makes himself perfect [with circumcision], comes before the blessed Holy One and accepts upon himself the Kingdom of Heaven. Is there greater love than this?

It happened that Onqelos the Convert asked an elder, ‘How is a convert loved before the blessed Holy One? For all that is written of His love is and loving the sojourner to give him bread and cloak (Deuteronomy 10:18).’ He answered, ‘Our father Jacob sought only this from the blessed Holy One: and give me bread to eat and clothing to wear (Genesis 28:20). And our Rabbis said: The convert is loved because the blessed Holy One recorded his honor through the prophet, as is written, [O hope of Israel, its rescue in time of trouble,] why should you be as a sojourner in the land, [and as a wayfaring man that turns aside to tarry for a night?] (Jeremiah 14:8). The blessed Holy One said ‘I love the convert, but wicked ones have come to challenge Abraham, the father of all converts. אוֹי (oy), Woe, unto them, for they are doomed to fall before him, as is written, וַּי יָהּ (vai Yah)woe is Yah, in the days of Amraphel (Genesis 14:1) [reading וַּי יָהּ (vai Yah)woe is Yah, instead of וַיְהִי (va-yehi), and it happened, see Rabbi Enoch Zundel ben Yosef, Ets Yosef]. Who was this [wicked one]? Nimrod. Why was he called אַמְרָפֶל (amrafel), Amraphel? For he אָמַר (amar), said, to Abraham ‘פֹּל (pol), descend, into the fiery furnace!’” (TanḥumaLekh Lekha 6).

And the inhabitants of Gibeon had heard what Joshua did to Jericho and to Ai. And they on their part acted with cunning and provisioned themselves…. And they went to Joshua at the Gilgal camp and said to him and to the men of Israel, ‘We have come from a far-away land, and now seal a pact with us.’ … And the men took from their provisions, and they did not inquire of YHWH (Joshua 9:3–4, 6, 14).

“Do not think that the blessed Holy One only draws near גֵרֵי הַצֶּדֶק (gerei ha-tsedeq), converts of righteousness, who converted for the sake of Heaven. For even in the case of those who were converted with no intention of honoring the Name of Heaven we find that the blessed Holy One exacted punishment for an offence against them, as is written, And there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year. [And David sought out the presence of YHWH. And YHWH said, ‘On account of Saul and on account of the house of blood guilt, because he put the Gibeonites to death.’ … and the Gibeonites were not of Israelite stock but from the remnant of the Amorites, and the Israelites had vowed to them, but Saul sought to strike them down in his zeal for the Israelites and for Judah] (2 Samuel 21:1) [cf. Joshua 9]. What is year after year? It teaches that they were three consecutive years. When David saw that famine began to make its appearance in his days, he said to himself: ‘Rain does not descend on account of the transgression of five things: For the transgression of those who serve idols, of those who practise immorality, of those who shed blood, of those who publicly subscribe to charity and do not pay, and for the transgression of those who do not give their tithes in accordance with the regulations.’ …

David thought: ‘Has then the blessed Holy One dealt [harshly] with His people because of these converts?’ The blessed Holy One said to him: ‘If you estrange those that are distant, you will ultimately estrange also those that are near. Go, learn a lesson from Joshua, your master.’ For when the Gibeonites said Come up quickly to us and rescue us and help us (Joshua 10:6), Joshua thought at first: ‘Shall we put the Assembly [of Israel] to trouble for the sake of these converts?’ And the blessed Holy One said to him, ‘Joshua, if you estrange those that are distant you will ultimately estrange also those who are near. Go, mark the plant from which you yourself have sprung! Is it not from converts? As is written, And to Joseph were born in the land of Egypt, whom Asenath daughter of Potiphera priest of On bore to him, Manasseh and Ephraim (Genesis 46:20), and as is written, of the tribe of Ephraim, Hosea, son of Nun (Numbers 13:8)? Immediately, The king [David] called to the Gibeonites and said to them—now the Gibeonites… (2 Samuel 21:2). Regarding the next words, now the Gibeonites were not of Israelite stock (ibid.): what connection has one thing with the other? Because David called the Gibeonites and said to them what he did [‘What shall I do for you and how shall I atone, that you may bless YHWH’s heritage?’ (ibid., 3)], and they refused to accept his words [saying, let seven men of (Saul’s) sons be given to us, that we may impale them before YHWH], therefore, the Gibeonites were not of Israelite stock, and David rose and removed them so that they might not enter the Assembly. Of this we have learned that Nethinim are forbidden to enter the Assembly [cf. Ezra 8:20: Also of the Nethinim, whom David and the princes had appointed for the service of the Levites, two hundred and twenty Nethinim: all of them were registered by name]. On that occasion David said: The blessed Holy One presented Israel with three gifts, making them compassionate, bashful, and generous [see BT Yevamot 79a; cf. BT Pesaḥim 113b]” (Bemidbar Rabbah 8:4).

“Whoever maintains this holy mark [of circumcision] is linked with those two sublime rungs [Yesod and Shekhinah], protecting him completely, crowing him with supernal glory…. Rabbi El’azar said, ‘But we have learned: A convert who has been circumcised and enters beneath the wings of Shekhinah is called גֵּר צֶדֶק (ger tsedeq), convert of righteousness, and nothing more. A convert of righteousness, surely—worthy of entering that crown of Righteousness [Malkhut, but no higher]. Yet you say that he attains both of them!’

Rabbi Shim’on replied, ‘El’azar, my son, there is no comparison between one who comes from a holy root, from a stock of truth, and one who comes from evil filth, from a root of foul, fierce loathsomeness. Of Israel is written I planted you as a noble vine, of entirely faithful seed (Jeremiah 2:21). Of the nations of the world is written whose flesh is the flesh of donkeys and whose emission is the emission of stallions (Ezekiel 23:20). Thus, holy Israel—faithful seed, stock that became fragrantly firm at Mount Sinai, where filth ceased—all turn fragrant, all enter the holy covenant of day and night, becoming totally complete. But as for nations of the world, it is difficult to remove filth from them, even up to three generations. Therefore we have learned: ‘The best among the Gentiles…’ (Mekhilta, Beshallaḥ 1). So a convert of righteousness, surely!” (Zohar 3:14a–b).

“It was taught: Rabbi Ḥananya son of Rabbi Shim’on son of Gamaliel said: Why are converts at the present time oppressed and visited with afflictions? Because they did not keep the seven commandments of the sons of Noah [see BT Sanhedrin 56a].

Rabbi Yose said: One who has become a convert is like a child newly born. Why then are converts oppressed? Because they are not so well acquainted with the details of the mitsvot as the Israelites.

Abba Ḥanan said in the name of Rabbi El’azar: Because they do not do it out of love but out of fear. Others said: Because they delayed before entering under the wings of  Shekhinah. Rabbi Abbahu said, or some say Rabbi Ḥanina: What is the proof-text? May YHWH requite your actions and may your reward be complete from YHWH God of Israel under whose wings you have come to shelter (Ruth 2:12)” (BT Yevamot 48a–b).

“Our Rabbis taught: He who mistreats a convert transgresses three prohibitions, and he who oppresses him transgresses two. How does mistreating differ? Because three prohibitions are written: You shall not cheat a sojourner (Exodus 22:20); and should a sojourner sojourn with you in your land, you shall not wrong him (Leviticus 19:33); and you shall not defraud each other (ibid. 25:17), a convert is included in each other. Three are written for one who oppresses as well: And you shall not oppress him (Exodus 22:20); no sojourner shall you oppress [for you know the sojourner’s heart, since you were sojourners in the land of Egypt] (ibid. 23:9); [If you should lend money to My people, to the pauper among you,you shall not be to him like a creditor, [you shall not impose interest on him] (ibid. 22:24), which includes a convert!—but [say] both [are forbidden] by three [prohibitions].

It has been taught: Rabbi Eli’ezer the Great said: Why did Torah warn against [the wronging of] a convert in thirty-six, or as others say, in forty-six, places? Because the convert turns to evil [cf. Rashi on BT Horayot 13a]. What is that which is written, You shall not cheat a sojourner and you shall not oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt (Exodus 22:20). It has been taught: Rabbi Natan said: A blemish which is in you, do not say to your fellow. And thus people say: He who has a hanging in his family does not say to another, ‘Hang this fish up for me’” (BT Bava Metsi’a 59b).