The Sages went so far as to say that the Torah commands us in only one place to love our neighbor, but thirty-six times to love the stranger. Why is this so important?!

Isn’t it more important to love those closest to you? Why so much emphasis on the stranger? I think the answer is based on human nature and our ability to turn a blind eye when something negative is happening around us, but not to us. There are studies which show that we often don’t come to the rescue of strangers who are getting mugged, harmed, have fallen on the ground, or are in need of general help; we just ignore them and move on. This is not because we are unkind or inherently bad—we just don’t pay attention. We either assume someone else will help, or we are oblivious or in denial. As a society, we have forgotten to exercise the ‘care for a stranger’ muscle.

I’m reminded of the introduction to a book called Pathways of the Just, which was written by a famous scholar Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzato. The Rabbi said that this book is meant to be read multiple times, as it doesn’t have anything monumentally new or ideas one wouldn’t already know. Rather, the book is full of ideas that we tend to forget because we don’t exercise them, we don’t repeat them, and we become willfully unaware.

So too with lending a helping hand to a stranger, and a stranger can be a community or family member who makes you uncomfortable, someone you don’t like, or someone who looks different or comes from a different background. These people can all be considered strangers who we might tend to ignore or avoid.

This is why the Torah says it 36 times. Firstly, to remind ourselves of the importance of being kind and helpful to strangers, no matter who they are. Yet more so, it’s a reminder that it’s not enough to want to do something; in order to keep commitments, we need to repeat the behavior over and over, even if it’s obvious. We need to remember that which we have forgotten.

This week, let’s find that behavior that we seek to improve, shift, or change, and make a commitment to exercise it, to repeat it until it’s no longer a stranger.


Accountability, Community, Unconditional Love



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