If you hear or read anyone saying that Judaism has a clear teaching that should be guiding Israel’s strategy to secure the release of the more than 220 people held hostage in Gaza, you should be deeply skeptical. That’s because there is no way that such a complex moral issue can have one clear answer. Of course, one can cherry-pick a source to show that “Judaism says” pretty much anything we want our tradition to say. But honesty and integrity to the tradition demands that we attempt to see the entire picture in all of its complexity.
The term for this mitzvah is pidyon shevuyim, the redeeming of captives. And it is indeed a mitzvah in the “commandment” sense of the term. The first instance of the taking of a captive and the commitment to rescue him is in this week’s Torah portion, Lekh-Lekha. Lot, Avram’s nephew, is taken captive in a regional conflict. “And when Avram heard that his kinsman was taken captive, he led forth three hundred eighteen trained men born of his household and pursued as far as Dan. He and his servants split into two camps attacking them at night, and pursuing them into Hovah, north of Damascus. And he brought back all the goods along with his kinsman Lot and his possessions, including the women and the rest of the people” (Genesis 14:14-16).
Typical of Sefer Bereshit, though, the text does not then say that all of Avram’s descendants are thus obligated to redeem captives. The roots of this mitzvah come from elsewhere. On Shabbat, we will have copies of source material collected and arranged by my colleague Rabbi Jessica Dell’Era that you can take and study. I’ll be addressing some of those texts Shabbat afternoon at Seudah Shelishit. May we appreciate the difficulty of the hostage situation and learn to ignore anyone who says that the answer to the problem is obvious.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom, and Shalom ‘al Yisrael,
Rabbi David Wise
Candle lighting: 5:39 PM
Torah Reading: Genesis 12:1-17:27
Haftarah: Isaiah 40:27-41:16