Numbers Hizkuni: Naso
Strangers Amongst Us
The Tribe of Jews can be fairly ethnocentric. A popular game when two Jews meet for the first time is “Jewish Geography”. The longer one plays it the more connections, acquaintances and even relatives one can find.
In Jewish law, the widespread nature of Jewish families can be helpful when finding an heir. There is always somebody, if you go back far enough on the family tree. This however is not the case with most converts to Judaism. According to Jewish law, a convert’s identity is completely renewed. There is no further legal Jewish connection between them and their natural parents, siblings and other relatives from their previous life.
Taking this into consideration, the Torah goes out of its way to describe the specific case of a financial debt that needs to be paid back to a deceased, but who has no heirs (Numbers 5:8). The Rabbis explain that in Jewish law, the only person that could possible have no heirs is a convert that died without children. The law is that in such a case the repayment of the debt is made to the Kohen.
Rabbi Hizkiyah ben Manoach (Hizkuni) explains the payment for the convert to the Kohen, not as a lack of Jewish parentage. Rather Hizkuni claims that a convert is considered according to Jewish law nothing less than a complete child of God. Therefore, the Kohen, as an earthly representative of God, becomes the natural recipient of any material wealth the convert can’t bequeath directly to his Jewish parent – God.
May we always treat and welcome the converts amongst us as is their proper due – as our full brothers and sisters under the parentage of God.
Mazal Tov to Brian (Yosef) Maccaba and Hilary (Chava) Guiney on their upcoming marriage.
Correction: For several months now, I’ve been calling Hizkuni, Rabbi Yaakov ben Manoach. When I first did my research on him, I came across that reference. One of my readers pointed out that it is really Hizkiyah ben Manoach (makes more sense). I double checked and could not find the original reference, but rather many others that indeed refer to him as Rabbi Hizkiyah. I apologize for any confusion.