In this week’s parashah, Lech Lecha, we are introduced to an important mitzvah: pidyon shvuyim, the redemption/ransoming of captives. The concept is introduced through the relationship of Abraham and his nephew Lot. After Lot and Abraham separate because their herdsmen were fighting, Lot is taken captive in a war between Canaanite kings. When Abraham hears the news, he assembles his forces and goes after the conquering tribesmen, vanquishes them and rescues Lot and all the captured prisoners and their possessions. At the victory party, the king of Sodom offers Abraham an unusual deal: “Give me the people and you take the spoils.” Abraham turns down the offer saying, “I swore to the Creator of Heaven and Earth, that nothing from a thread to a shoe-string will I take from you. You will never be able to say ‘I made Abram rich.’” In the Talmud we learn that redeeming captives is one of the greatest mitzvoth in the Torah, and Maimonides (in the Mishneh Torah) says one who ignores pleas from captives is guilty of transgressing the commandment of ‘you shall not harden your heart’ and ‘you shall not stand idly by the blood of your brother' and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself’.
This brings us to today. This week, we received some light amidst the darkness of the war in Gaza when four hostages were released by Hamas, but there are still over 200 hostages being kept. The news cycle and peoples' attentions seem to have already moved on from the innocent men, women, and children being held by Hamas. It is up to us to keep their names on the forefront of the minds of our neighbors. You may have seen ‘missing’ signs hung up around town. These flyers can be found on the website https://www.kidnappedfromisrael.com/. You can download the flyers on the website and give them out to friends, or place them on the walls in your communities.
Israel is in our hearts and minds. Two weeks ago, we held a Friday night service to support each other and pray for Israel. This Shabbat, we will be joining with hundreds of congregations in North America for an Israel Solidarity Shabbat. This special service will be led by Rabbi Nachshon Carmi and others. We will share stories of resilience and unity from Israel, sing familiar Kabbalat Shabbat songs, learn new songs from Israel, and listen to inspiring poetry written by Israelis living through this historical time. We will circle around those most directly connected to people in Israel as our Jewish hearts unite. We will close with prayers of healing for the injured and for the safe return of those held hostage.
In closing, I want to thank all of you who are helping Israel in your own ways. Long-time Chaverim/members of Shaarei Kodesh, Richard Berrie, and his daughter Kayla, are going to Israel on Monday with duffle bags of supplies to help our brothers and sisters in Israel. Another congregant shared that they are involved in placing the 'Kidnapped' posters on blank walls and light posts in our area, and so many of us have already donated to many worthy causes supporting Israel.
Just as Abraham took his first steps on a precarious journey that brought him to greatness, so too are we at the beginning of a similarly challenging time in the history of the Jewish people. Soon after Abraham came to Canaan, he went to war, a necessary war that must have been fought. Just as Abraham prevailed, so too will Israel and the Jewish people. With our help and support, we can begin this precarious journey together with faith and blessing.