Bring Them Home
October 27, 2023 -תשפ”ד י״ב מרחֶשְׁוָן
וַ֠יִּקְח֠וּ אֶת־כׇּל־רְכֻ֨שׁ סְדֹ֧ם וַעֲמֹרָ֛ה וְאֶת־כׇּל־אׇכְלָ֖ם וַיֵּלֵֽכוּ׃ וַיִּקְח֨וּ אֶת־ל֧וֹט וְאֶת־רְכֻשׁ֛וֹ בֶּן־אֲחִ֥י אַבְרָ֖ם וַיֵּלֵ֑כוּ וְה֥וּא יֹשֵׁ֖ב בִּסְדֹֽם׃ וַיָּבֹא֙ הַפָּלִ֔יט וַיַּגֵּ֖ד לְאַבְרָ֣ם הָעִבְרִ֑י וְהוּא֩ שֹׁכֵ֨ן בְּאֵֽלֹנֵ֜י מַמְרֵ֣א הָאֱמֹרִ֗י אֲחִ֤י אֶשְׁכֹּל֙ וַאֲחִ֣י עָנֵ֔ר וְהֵ֖ם בַּעֲלֵ֥י בְרִית־אַבְרָֽם׃ וַיִּשְׁמַ֣ע אַבְרָ֔ם כִּ֥י נִשְׁבָּ֖ה אָחִ֑יו וַיָּ֨רֶק אֶת־חֲנִיכָ֜יו יְלִידֵ֣י בֵית֗וֹ שְׁמֹנָ֤ה עָשָׂר֙ וּשְׁלֹ֣שׁ מֵא֔וֹת וַיִּרְדֹּ֖ף עַד־דָּֽן׃ וַיֵּחָלֵ֨ק עֲלֵיהֶ֧ם ׀ לַ֛יְלָה ה֥וּא וַעֲבָדָ֖יו וַיַּכֵּ֑ם וַֽיִּרְדְּפֵם֙ עַד־חוֹבָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר מִשְּׂמֹ֖אל לְדַמָּֽשֶׂק׃ וַיָּ֕שֶׁב אֵ֖ת כׇּל־הָרְכֻ֑שׁ וְגַם֩ אֶת־ל֨וֹט אָחִ֤יו וּרְכֻשׁוֹ֙ הֵשִׁ֔יב וְגַ֥ם אֶת־הַנָּשִׁ֖ים וְאֶת־הָעָֽם׃ (בראשית יד:יא-טז)
“[The invaders] seized all the wealth of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their provisions and went their way. They also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, and his possessions, and departed; for he had settled in Sodom. A fugitive brought the news to Abram the Hebrew, who was dwelling at the terebinths of Mamre the Amorite, kinsman of Eshkol and Aner, these being Abram’s allies. When Avram heard that his kinsman’s [household] had been taken captive, he mustered his retainers, born into his household, numbering three hundred and eighteen, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. At night, he and his servants deployed against them and defeated them; and he pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus. He brought back all the possessions; he also brought back his kinsman Lot and his possessions, and the women and the rest of the people.” (Genesis 14: 11-16)
As we welcome the third Shabbat since the outbreak of the war known as ‘Iron Swords’ between Israel and Hamas, we will gather around our Shabbat tables and come to Kabbalat Shabbat with heavy hearts, not only for the hundreds of families who have buried their dead and are sitting shiva still this week but for those who have empty chairs at their Shabbat tables with the fate of their loved ones unknown. The official number of kidnapped hostages being held in captivity is 224. 224 women, children, men, elderly people, and the infirm, were all taken by Hamas from kibbutzim and dance parties, from the front lines, and from their homes, to act as human trading cards.
According to our tradition, the mitzvah of Pidyon Shvu’im – ‘Redeeming the Captives’ is considered a “Great Mitzvah.” פדיון שבויים – היא “מצוה רבה”
Not that all Mitzvot aren’t important, but the Rambam teaches that:
“פדיון שבויים קודם לפרנסת עניים ולכסותן, ואין לך מצוה גדולה כפדיון שבויים, שהשבוי הרי הוא בכלל הרעבים והצמאים והערומים, ועומד בסכנת נפשות. (הלכות מתנות עניים פרק ח’ הלכה י’)
“Redeeming captives is more important than providing for the poor and clothing them, and there is no greater mitzvah than redeeming captives, since the captive is in general, the hungry, the thirsty, and the naked, and is in danger of their lives.” (Laws of Gifts to the Poor Ch. 8, Halakha 10)
With this teaching in mind, I (along with my daughter’s 8th-grade class) joined a multitude of concerned members of the Jewish community to stand outside the United Nations building to accompany the families of those hostages being held in captivity by Hamas in Gaza, as they made their way in on a 24-hour visit from Israel. We chanted #bringthemhome and prayed that their meetings with the UN Security Council would be fruitful. After hearing their words, seeing their videos, and even their image on the cover of Time Magazine, it was very moving to give Jon Polin and Rachel Goldberg, the parents of Hersh Goldberg-Polin who is in Hamas captivity in Gaza, a quick hug as they were escorted by the crowds who showed up to welcome them and to lend their support and solidarity. Each family, each parent who sits in anguish with little information about their child’s fate, who passes sleepless nights must be held closely and embraced by the Jewish world and the world at large.
The Shulchan Arukh teaches:
“כל רגע שמאחר לפדות השבויים, היכא דאפשר להקדים הוי כאילו שופך דמים.” (שולחן ערוך יורה דעה רמ”ב)
“Every moment that one delays unnecessarily the ransoming of a captive, it is as if he were to shed blood.” (Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh De’ah 252)
Our plea for this Shabbat is to do everything we can to bring them home. Join us to Shine Your Light on just one of the 224 hostages.
- Leave an empty seat at your Shabbat dinner table.
- Wear a Blue Ribbon and join us in the Blue Ribbon Campaign. (#BlueRibbonsforIsrael)
- Put up posters of the kidnapped in your congregations and around your communities.
- Highlight the stories of just one of these innocent victims and share what your congregation is doing.
And please join us in this prayer (adapted from this prayer for peace by Rabbi Mira Regev):
“הָשֵׁב אֶת כָּל הַחֲטוּפוֹת וְהַחֲטוּפִים בְּשָׁלוֹם לְבָּתֵּיהֶם בְּלֹא שֶׁיִּשָּׁפֵךְ דָּם נָקִי וּבְלִי שֶׁתִּטָּמָא נַפְשָׁם בְּמַעֲשֵׂי זְוָעָה חַזֵּק אֶת יְדֵי מְגִנֵּי אֶרֶץ קָדְשֵׁנוּ : הַחֲיָלִים וְהָאֶזְרָחִים. מִי יִתֵּן וְלֹא יִשָּׂא גוֹי אֶל גּוֹי חֶרֶב וְלֹא יִלְמְדוּ עוֹד מִלְחָמָה:“
“Return all those kidnapped safe and sound to their homes, without the spilling of innocent blood, without their souls becoming tarnished by horrific acts. Strengthen those who protect our Holy Land, soldiers, and civilians alike. We pray ‘nation shall not lift sword against nation and they will study war no more.”