The beginning of this week’s Torah Portion is so important that we read it three times during the year.
The opening verses clearly refer to the Festival of First Fruits, the Festival of Shavuot. “When you come into the land … take your first fruits … put them in a basket …” travel to Jerusalem and “rejoice there before the Eternal One your God, you and the stranger who is among you.” (Deuteronomy 26 1-11)
We celebrate our harvest by acknowledging that it is not our own might but God’s blessing that makes our prosperity possible. There for we must share generously with the poor and the stranger.
Second, words from this portion begin the vital maggid (narrative) section of our Passover Haggadah. They tell of our emergence as a people. We started out with nothing, became slaves and emerged to freedom and prosperity.
It is our solemn obligation, therefore, to help others make the same journey.
It cannot be an accident that we come upon this portion again now, two short weeks before Rosh Hashanah, a time to examine and reorder our lives.
Three times a year our readings emphasize the Covenant that God with our ancestors and with us! In return God demands that we act righteously to the stranger among us.
Actually it is not just three times a year but thirty-six times—more than any other commandment—that he Torah insists that we treat the stranger with dignity and respect.
How should we treat the stranger? I do not have all the answers.
But it is, i contend, a question to which God demands better answers than we now give, from each of us as individuals and from Israel as the nation-state of our people.