We are a people of laws. More importantly we are a people of laws that require us to treat others, humans and animals, well. Look at some of the first laws that we receive, as a people, in the Torah:
A slave is not a slave forever. Freedom can be given after six years.
A slave is not just property; the slave has legal and moral rights.
A person who creates a hazardous situation is responsible to anyone injured by that hazardous situation.
A stranger should not be wronged or oppressed (because we were strangers in Egypt).
Widows and orphans must be cared for and not mistreated.
The poor should be given interest free loans.
Do not spread false rumors.
If your enemy's ox is wandering you must return it to your enemy; If it has fallen, you must help your enemy to raise it up.
Shabbat is for everyone including beasts of burden and slaves.
The Torah, no less than 36 times, reminds us not to oppress the stranger. Usually this admonition is accompanied by the explanation that we were strangers. Why do the laws start with social justice and why are we reminded so frequently to take care of those less fortunate than us? Because the Torah wants to be certain that we learn the lesson that these laws are important and that we place these laws at the forefront of what we care about.
The story of the Jewish people is the story of the constant stranger. Abraham is told to leave his home to, in essence, become a stranger. Joseph is a stranger in Egypt as were his brothers and father. Moses is a stranger in Egypt and in Midian.
As strangers, in the Torah and in later history, we were treated poorly. We are given very precise instructions to not do the same to strangers in our communities.
We are strongest when we are compassionate to those who need our compassion most.
Shabbat Shalom - Rabbi Michael S. Jay