75 words for 75 years of Israel – Ger/Stranger

In honor of Israel’s 75th birthday, Israel365 is excited to launch a new series of essays that will unlock the secrets of the Hebrew Bible!

Excerpted from Rabbi Akiva Gersh’s forthcoming book, 75 Hebrew Words You Need to Understand the Bible (available soon!) these essays illuminate the connection between related Hebrew words, revealing Biblical secrets only accessible through Hebrew.

Enjoy the series – and happy 75th birthday to the State of Israel!

גֵּר

GER

GER

STRANGER

“I am a resident stranger among you; sell me a burial site among you, that I may remove my dead for burial.” (Genesis 23:4)

גר ותושב אנכי עמכם תנו לי אחזת קבר עמכם ואקברה מתי מלפני

“You must befriend the stranger, for you too were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:19)

ואהבתם את הגר כי גרים הייתם בארץ מצרים

The Hebrew word ger can mean “stranger,” “foreigner” or “convert,” all of whom are vulnerable outsiders often forced to live on the outskirts of society.

When Abraham asks the Hittites to sell him a burial plot for Sarah, he refers to himself as a ger toshav, a “resident stranger” in the land. The term appears to be a contradiction; if Abraham is a resident, then he is not a stranger, and if he is a stranger, then he is not a resident. But upon deeper contemplation, we see that Abraham’s phrase captures the tenuousness of the human condition. Abraham calls himself a “stranger” in this world, for though he is alive right now, he recognizes that, like his wife Sarah, he will not live forever. At the same time, Abraham is a “resident” of this world, for he is still alive and capable of fulfilling his mission on Earth.

Forced to flee from Egypt to the land of Midian, Moses referred to himself as a ger and chose a name for his son that reflected his outsider status. “He named him Gershom, for he said, “I have been a stranger in a foreign land” (Exodus 22:2).

In Biblical times, the word ger was often used to refer to people from other nations who were living within the borders of Israel. If these people renounced idol worship, they were permitted to stay and even protected by the laws of the Bible. “You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19). God considers the Israelites’ own experience as hated strangers in Egypt as the foundation for their responsibility and obligation to care for strangers within their own borders.  

The Israel Bible Team

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