Sept. 17, 2020

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner on Deuteronomy 10:18-19– “Loving The Stranger”

Mark is thoroughly delighted to welcome Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, to the podcast today. Through his work with this Center, he engaged clergy, professional, and volunteer leaders in interfaith efforts in pursuit of social justice. Rabbi Pesner has also sat on the Boards of the NAACP, JOIN for Justice, the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, and other such organizations, and has been a congregational rabbi at Temple Israel in Boston and at Temple Israel in Westport, Connecticut. The passage he has chosen to discuss today is Deuteronomy 10:18-19.

Rabbi Pesner begins the conversation by summarizing the passage and sharing its importance for him as well as the reason why he feels this passage is ‘all about’ Mark. Together, they then explore the theme of love and, particularly, loving the stranger, which is prevalent in this passage, and which has very real applications in today’s society. Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, the Rabbi’s graphic and emotional example of ‘the ultimate act of grace’, the notion of the Torah as a radical document, and the attitude toward ‘the stranger’ in the current climate, are all discussed in the context of this theme of love. The lessons Rabbi Pesner has learned about mankind, including the impact of modeling and practicing love, and the complexity of humanity, draw this fascinating conversation to a close.

Episode Highlights:

  • Rabbi Pesner’s summary of the passage and its significance for him
  • Why he feels this passage is ‘all about’ Mark
  • Running towards empathy
  • Love in the Jewish context
  • How to ‘love the stranger’
  • Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy
  • Rabbi Pesner’s example of ‘the ultimate act of grace’
  • The Torah as a radical document
  • Attitudes toward the ‘stranger’ in the current climate
  • The lessons about mankind which Rabbi Pesner has learned
  • The impact of modeling and practicing love
  • The complexity of humanity


“So many people’s lives have been made better because of your philanthropic investments and the things you care about…this Torah portion sings your song.”

“You too must love the stranger because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

“Having had that experience of love with our Creator, that becomes the template of all relationships with all humans.”

“Devote your entire life to a journey of exploration and learning.”

“You surround yourself by people who think differently than you, and want to learn from them and hear from them, and I think that’s a guide for all of us.”

“Much of what being moral is, is overcoming what’s natural, and doing what’s right.”

“It’s not enough just to express a love for the deity, for God, for Jesus, it’s about your deeds demonstrating that love.”

“Feelings follow actions.”

“You will get ‘Messiahness’ by behaving in such a way that embodies ‘Messiahness’.”

“I just want to know the human at the other end of this relationship and understand who they are and why they feel what they feel and make space for love to come into that.”

Deuteronomy 10:18-19 but upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and befriends the stranger, providing him with food and clothing.— You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.


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