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Strangers and Sojourners


Torah Portion: Parashat Chayei Sarah (“the life of Sarah”)

Shabbat: Nov. 19, 2022 / Cheshvan 25 5783

Torah: Gen. 23:1-25:18

Prophets: 1 Kings 1:1-31

New Covenant: Matt. 1:1-17, 1 Cor. 15:50-57


Paul’s prayer in Colossians

“For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins”. Colossians 1:9-14


God's people are "strangers" in this world. They are literally estranged and live as "resident aliens" -- here, yet not here. Thus Abraham said to the sons of Chet: "I am a 'stranger and sojourner' (גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב) among you; sell me a burial site..." (Gen. 23:4), and King David likewise confessed: "For we are strangers with You, mere transients like our fathers (כִּי־גֵרִים אֲנַחְנוּ לְפָנֶיךָ וְתוֹשָׁבִים כְּכָל־אֲבתֵינוּ); our days on earth are like a shadow, without abiding" (1 Chron. 29:15). Life in olam hazeh (this world) is nothing but a "burial site," a graveyard, a shadowy place of passing that leads to olam haba, the world to come, and to God's glorious kingdom. We cannot find lasting hope in this world and its values; all that must be buried and surrendered to God.

Being gerim v'toshavim (גֵרִים וְתוֹשָׁבִים), "strangers and sojourners," is inherently paradoxical, however, since a ger (גֵּר) is one who is "just passing through," like a visitor or refugee, whereas a toshav (תּוֹשָׁב) is one who is a resident, like a settler or citizen. Living by emunah (אֱמוּנָה, faith) therefore invariably leads to collision with worldly culture and its values. Faith affirms that underlying the surface appearance of life is a deeper reality that is ultimately real and abiding. It "sees what is invisible" (2 Cor. 4:18) and understands (i.e., accepts) that the "present form of this world is passing away" (1 Cor. 7:31). The life of faith therefore calls us to live as toshavim - sojourners - who are put at an infinite "distance" from the world of appearances. We ache with a divine "homesickness." We lament over the state of this world and its delusions. We gnaw with hunger for love and truth to prevail in the world. And yet this loneliness, this dissonance, this place of suffering "outside the camp" is not without an overarching comfort:

This slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. For we know that if the tent (σκηνος), which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling. (2 Cor. 4:17-5:2)

May His Kingdom come speedily, and in our day, and may the LORD help us live today -- in this world -- as ambassadors and emissaries of the world to come. Amen.

If we are given grace to answer the call of Yeshua to "take up our cross," we presently become ger v'toshav. As gerim we confess that we are strangers in this present world, but as toshavim we believe that our labors are not in vain, and that our true citizenship is in heaven. Like father Abraham, we live in a foreign land as "strangers and sojourners," looking forward to the City of God (Heb. 11:9-10).


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