According to Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of Great Britain, the Hebrew Bible contains only one commandment to love the neighbor but no less than 36 commands to love the stranger. Throughout Torah, the reason given for this moral teaching is that the Israelites themselves were strangers once. “You shall not oppress a stranger,” reads the Jewish Publication Society’s translation of Exodus 23:9, “for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Empathy is key, in other words. Those who have been lost in faraway places where they could not read the street signs, who have endured the stares of children as they walked through a strange town, who have held out a handful of foreign coins to a merchant without the slightest idea how many it takes to buy a loaf of bread—these are the people who know best how strangers feel, and who are therefore bound to use that knowledge by welcoming aliens instead of deepening their alienation.