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Shabbat Vayetze

24 November 2023

Dear Members and Friends,

I’m certain I’m not alone these days in the act of constantly refreshing my news feed. Waiting to see images of reunited families, praying for their safety and their health and fervently hoping that the remaining hostages will be returned. Unharmed. The faces of the youngest hostages come into my mind throughout the day and in the hours of the night when I awake with thoughts of them. The horror and anguish that their loved ones have been facing without knowing of their whereabouts is unimaginable. Please God may the next few hours, few days bring us more information and bring the return of the most vulnerable hostages. And may the remaining hostages be returned safely soon after.  

The mitzvah to free a captive is Pidyon Shvuyim, it is identified as a ‘mitzvah rabbah’ a great mitzvah.

Maimonides has argued that redeeming a captive follows the imperatives that we are given in our sacred texts, he uses as his proof texts:
Deuteronomy 15:7 ‘You shall not harden your heart.’
Leviticus 19:16 ‘You shall not stand idly by the blood of your brother.’
Leviticus 19:18 ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’

The conversations within the Mishnah and the Talmud are reflections of the ethical and practical questions that the rabbinic sages of their time were confronting and those they believed would be confronted in the future. How tragic that our sages needed to write then about returning captives, and that in our day we lean on their writing for wisdom. The discussion around the redemption of captives is furthered by painful texts around the value of redeeming a captive. There are texts around the value of different captives depending on their age and even their Torah knowledge and texts around how much should be given in order to ensure their safe return. The texts are a painful read and even more painful to know that over a thousand years later, whilst discussions around hostages and prisoner exchanges are being discussed, these texts are still relevant.

It is a Jewish custom to include a nechemta - a piece of comfort - in any painful discourse. I’m particularly lucky that one of my roles in the synagogue is to support our young children and their families. Weekly at Rimon I see that nechemta in our young children who learn to love and embrace their Jewish identities and who continue to learn about these imperatives to keep an open heart, to not stand idly by and to love their neighbour. There is hope and there is still beauty. It is so important to hold onto hope and to find your nechemta- whatever it might be.  The real comfort, of course, will come when all the hostages are returned and when a lasting peace is found in Israel and Palestine.

Like many within our community I grew up in America, my family is gathering this week to celebrate Thanksgiving. My father sent a Thanksgiving email to his children marking the many emotions of this week- the despair for the continued war, the hope for the return of the hostages, the pensive contemplation on the 60th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the gratitude for what remains sacred and beautiful within our lives even in the midst of such turmoil. With his permission I share with you  some of his words for a brighter future. ‘We have so much to be grateful/thankful for. Even so, we appreciate there is much room for Tikkun Olam! We remain hopeful that we as a country, and as a species, can be doing so much more to be looking out for the future, in our hopeful view forward about what life could/should be like for our grandchildren, and their grandchildren, and theirs and so on…, and for the entire biosphere, moving forward.’

This time next week may the children hostages be preparing to share a Shabbat dinner table with their families.

Shabbat Shalom,

Tue, 28 November 2023 15 Kislev 5784