“You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of a stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.” 23:9
There are over 30 times when the Torah tells us how we should treat the stranger and invokes that we have been strangers as a way of remembering and doing it differently. Why 30 times? In this particular verse, God reminds us that we know the feelings of a stranger. “Feelings” is a translation of the words “know the soul” which sounds even stronger to me. We know in our soul how the stranger feels.
Why remind us of the soul we know when commanding us how to behave with others?
Perhaps the repetition in the Torah to remember that we too were strangers is a call for empathy. Perhaps the repetition is to remind us to use empathy in elsewhere in our lives, not only when dealing with strangers. Perhaps the Torah is reminding us to put empathy at the center of how we behave towards others.
I wonder how many things I don’t do because instead of empathy, I have an idea of a solution for someone’s problem or dismiss it from my thoughts. It humbles me to realize how many times I don’t remember how something felt, or have any way of imagining the person’s experience from their point of view. Even more humbling is realizing that there are times that I did have a similar experience, but do not use that experience to empathize and instead dismiss the other person’s needs altogether.
I became an educator to do things differently because I remember what it felt like to be a child. I hope that I am better at empathizing with the students, treating them with respect, honoring their points of view, and helping them to be successful because I remember how much of a person I felt myself to be at that age.
What do you do differently now because you remember how you once felt or you know the soul of someone in a familiar situation?
What can we do as a community because we remember how something feels?