Shabbat Blog: Are All Commandments Created Equal

Friday, June 10, 2022
Posted by: Rabbi Barry Gelman

What is going on here? 

וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְהֹוָ֖ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר׃  

God spoke to Moses, saying: 

דַּבֵּר֮ אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵל֒ אִ֣ישׁ אֽוֹ־אִשָּׁ֗ה כִּ֤י יַעֲשׂוּ֙ מִכּל־חַטֹּ֣את הָֽאָדָ֔ם לִמְעֹ֥ל מַ֖עַל בַּיהֹוָ֑ה וְאָֽשְׁמָ֖ה הַנֶּ֥פֶשׁ הַהִֽוא׃  

Speak to the Israelites: When men or women individually commit any wrong toward a fellow human being, thus breaking faith with God, and they realize their guilt, 

Why is this sin depicted in this verse considered “breaking faith” with God?  Isn’t every sin an act of breaking faith? 

Malbim contends that the sin referred to here is theft from a convert. Here are his words: “our traditional sources already told us that the subject is robbery from a proselyte who dies intestate before the robber confessed and made restitution. The robber had committed an act of desecrating the name of God in the eyes of the proselyte who must be appalled that a natural born Jew could be guilty of such a deed. This is why the sin of the robber in this verse is described as a “transgression against something sacred.” 

What a powerful statement. It seems that not all sins are created equal. In this case, there is a double transgression. 1. The theft itself 2. The desecration of God’s name created by stealing from a convert.  

I actually think that there is a third element here, the issue prohibition of Ona’at HaGer, abusing a convert. Stealing from a convert certainly seems to fall into that category.  

This explanation by the Malbim reminds us that there are groups of people who are specially protected by Torah law in that transgressions against them are deemed more serious than the exact same act done to a member of a different group.   

Converts commonly have no family in the community and fewer friends who they can turn to for help. As such, they are easy targets for abuse. For this reason, God ascribes additional weight to acts taken against them. It is the extra transgressions attached to these actions that may serve as a deterrent. 

What can this approach teach us as far as how we think about marginalized groups in the United States and across the world? How would you apply the idea of extra protection or concern that the Torah provides to certain groups to contemporary realities?  

I think the explanation of the Malbim provides lots of food for thought. 

Shabbat Shalom, 
Rabbi Gelman 

Rabbi Barry Gelman is the Director of the Bobbi & Vic Samuels Center for Jewish Living and Learning (CJLL). Rabbi Gelman teaches a number of classes at the Evelyn Rubenstein JCC and is working on injecting Jewish content to existing programs as well as developing new programs to highlight the beauty and relevance of

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