In the middle of this week’s Parsha, the Torah states, “do not abhor an Egyptian because you were a stranger in his land.” The Jewish people did not have a pleasurable experience in Egypt. The Egyptians enslaved the Jews, tortured them and killed them. Yet, the Jewish people cannot hold it against the Egyptians “because you were a stranger in his land.” The Egyptians hosted the Jewish people so we must be grateful to them. But, what they did to us is called hosting us? What kind of hosts were they?
So, Rashi explains that the Egyptians were our hosts at a time of our pressing need – during the famine in the time of Ya’akov and Yosef. They were good hosts to us at that time. Therefore, we must show them our gratitude.
What a concept! Even though the Jewish people suffered in Egypt beyond our imagination and that suffering wiped away any good feeling towards the land of Egypt, we still must show them appreciation for some good that they did for us.
We face that situation on a regular basis. The North American continent has hosted the Jewish people since 1654. The United States has been a benevolent host for the Jewish people even though there have been times and actions of anti-Semitism. So, how do we show our gratitude to the United States?
One way is through saying the prayer for the government. Now, there are shuls that do not say it. That is a bit perplexing because the Prophet Jeremiah commanded the Jewish people to pray for the welfare of the land to which they were being exiled. In addition, we find in Pirkei Avos that the Rabbis of the Talmud said to pray for the welfare of the government because without it, there would be chaos. So, whether it is a command from the Prophet Jeremiah or the Rabbis of the Talmud, praying for one’s host country seems to be an obligation.
Rabbi Wein was once sitting with Rabbi Ya’akov Kaminetzky and discussing some important matter with him. Another person came in and began to complain about the Pledge of Allegiance that was being said in his child’s school. This man felt that it was “Bitul Torah” – wasting time when Torah could be studied. Rav Ya’akov stood up and sternly said to this man, “You are living in a country where you can study Torah without any impediments and you don’t want to say ‘thank you’”?
The Torah has established the guidelines for showing gratitude even in situations where we might think otherwise. The Jewish view is that patriotism does not mean we cannot criticize or express our views upon issues. But, there must be an underlying current of gratitude towards G-d, countries and the people who have bestowed liberty and equality upon us.
In Parshas Ha’azinu that we will read in three weeks, Moshe criticizes the Jewish people as “children whom nobody raised to say thank you” – in other words, the Jewish people were an ungrateful nation and that was with all of the miracles that they witnessed in the desert. So, in today’s Parsha the Torah commands us to show gratitude to the Egyptians for hosting us even though they mistreated us later. How much more so the United States – where we have lived better and have had more freedoms than in any other exile. We must be grateful for what we have – a country where we can practice our Judaism to whatever degree we wish. May G-d continue to bestow the blessing of freedom and opportunity upon us in the coming year.