There is one statement that drives me mad during almost every lecture. Invariably, someone stands up and says something along these lines, "I know a little about Judaism, but the one thing I know for sure is that we should love our neighbors and not oppress strangers. That's the entire Torah." That's what they were told by incompetent teachers and progressive rabbis. Love your neighbor and throw out the other 612 commandments and the heap of halacha. Don't forget to baptize, too.
Exodus 23:9: And ger, [him] you shall not oppress – you, too, know the soul of ger, for you were gerim in the land of Egypt.
Exodus 23:31: And I will set your limits from Reed ("Red") Sea to Philistine ("Mediterranean") Sea, and from steppe ("Sinai Desert") to the river (Euphrates), for I will give in your hand the yeshvei [of] the land, and you shall displace them (gerashtamo) from yourself.
What is the difference between yeshvei and gerim, those who must be displaced and those who must not be oppressed? The root i-sh-v means, to stay, such as in settlement. Thus yeshvei are the natives. The natives must be cleansed out because their hostility is inherently implacable: they, even their remote generations will always remember that Jews took away their land. This is not an issue of land ownership, but of sovereignty: the country belonged to Canaanites or the Palestinian Arabs, but now the state is Jewish. Modern Jewish rulers believe that Arabs will ignore the insult in return for generous aid, but the Torah's author was infinitely wiser: if Jews want to be sovereign on this land, they must cleanse it from yeshvei.
The Torah economizes suffering: yeshvei have to be evicted (Exodus 23:31), ravaged (Deut20:17), but not necessarily killed. After the Jews cleared a country for themselves and uprooted yeshvei, security issues become less pressing and Jews can take measured risks. Deuteronomy 20, therefore, speaks of the wars which the Jews start voluntarily rather than by the divine commandment to take Canaan. In such wars, the natives need not be uprooted if they agree to submit to Jewish rule. If they did not defend themselves against the advancing Jews, such natives are allowed to remain, performing "labor duty for you and shall work for you" (Deut20:11). That law applies only to the towns far away from the Jewish population centers (Deut20:15).
Who are gerim? They are not natives, as the natives are exterminated or evicted already (yes, Jews are not nice). ...
Even toshav, a status higher than ger, relates inferiority. He is not allowed to partake of Pesach sacrifices (Exodus 12:45) unless he converts to Judaism and circumcises (12:48). He is just a bit higher than a slave (Leviticus 25:35, 40). His right to live in the Land of Israel is unquestioned, but his status is far below Jewish freeman.
What, then, is the meaning of "oppress"? We can only marvel at our lawgiver who preceded every political theorist. The Torah differentiates between natural law and special rights. Oppression means depriving a person from what is inherently his: life and ownership. Political rights, the rights to change or influence Jewish character of the state - he doesn't have them.
Jews were oppressed in Egypt where we were slaves (Exodus 3:9). Syrians oppressed us so that we needed a deliverer (2 Kings 13:4-5). To our lawgiver, oppression was tremendously more severe than mere absence of voting rights.
Long before Christians adopted this commandment as their major tenet, Jews were told, "You shall love your fellow [man] just as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18). Not to the extent that you love yourself, but the way you do. Your love to fellow man should be in the likeness (cmo) of your love to yourself.
The common translation of r-y-h as "neighbor" does not relate the word correctly. In Psalm 45:15, for example, the virgins in the king's wife's train are definitely not her neighbors. The translation friends also falls short, as Leviticus 19:13 won't prohibit trampling upon one's friend. The r-y-h sense has to do with following, going in the same direction. That sense makes for the double meaning of r-y-h: evil (to bend someone, to steer away) and friend (to bend together with someone, to have a common path unlike the others').Thus, r-y-h is not an abstract neighbor, but someone sufficiently close that you "bend the rules" together, deviate from the others' road. For example, the Tower of Babel builders are described as r-y-h, fellows. Rather than neighbor, the proper translation of r-y-h is compatriot (with co- relating the sense of sticking together) or fellow.
The critical difference between us and Christians is who to consider a fellow man. Modern Christians unrealistically pronounce all people fellows, and surely fail to treat them as such. But their own parable of the Good Samaritan is instructive: even a despised Samaritan could be one's fellow if the Samaritan helped him. Fellow is the one from whom help is expected. Such a definition surely excludes Canaanites and Palestinian Arabs from the commandment to love your fellow.
What is the love enjoined to our fellows? The context clarifies: "You shall not oppress your fellow" (19:13), "You shall not hate your brother" (19:17), and the 19:18: "You shall neither take revenge, nor restrain [yourself to take revenge later] at the children of your nation." This, by the way, refutes the claims that human vengeance is prohibited in Judaism, but is the power of God only. Revenge is prohibited only against fellow Jews, on the double presumption of their general goodwill and efficient law enforcement. In such a society, revenge on the personal level was superfluous. But taking revenge on the enemies of Jews (even their distant offspring) is not merely a right, but an often-reiterated obligation: "a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace" (Ecclesiastes 3:8).
The prescribed love to one's fellow is the absence of hatred, vengeance, oppression, and jealousy. While gerim must not be oppressed, fellows must also not be hated. The Torah distinguishes between several circles of people: the closer is the circle, the more rights are accorded to it. Extended family, a closer circle, enjoys still more rights: one must respect his parents. One's own family, the closest circle, awards generous rights to wives. Later on, when Hebrew society became strong and gerim were fully integrated, the commandment of love was expanded onto them (Deuteronomy 10:19); converts became treated strictly on par with native Jews.
The Torah prescribes, "The ger who resides among you in your land shall be for you like a native, and you shall love him just as you love yourself" (Leviticus 19:34). You cannot be more compassionate than that. But why the Torah, so short on words, reiterates, "in your land"? So that the ger absolutely recognizes the land as ours. And indeed the parallel Exodus 12:48: "And if a ger will reside with you, and will keep the Pesach to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised... he shall be like the native..." In order to be like a Jew, ger must be like a Jew: he must circumcise, keep Jewish customs, and to all purposes become a Jew. Then, sure enough, we must love him just as we love any Jew, including ourselves.
RLCC Comment: There you have it. It speaks for itself. It runs contrary to what is righteous.