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Redeeming Torah - Shemini Atzeret 5772

Redeeming Torah - Shemini Atzeret 5772

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Published by Adam Scheier

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Published by: Adam Scheier on Oct 24, 2011
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Redeeming Torah
Rabbi Adam Scheier 
October 20, 2011 (Shemini Atzeret)
Sometimes, there is just no good option. There is a medieval folktale, in which arabbi’s wisdom saved the entire community of Seville, Spain, from death. Alongwith other leading Jews, he had been arrested after being accused by a powerful priest of murdering a Christian child and using the dead boy’s blood in a religiousritual (an accusation known as the “blood libel.”) The priest piously declared thatthe Jews would be tried by God, not him. He would simply fold two pieces of  paper and put them in a hat; one would read “Innocent,” the other “Guilty.”The rabbi was to choose one of the pieces of paper. If the one he extracted read“Innocent,” he and the other Jews would be released. If it read “Guilty,” all of Seville’s Jews would be burned.The hat was placed in front of the rabbi. “At least there’s a fifty percent chanceyou will choose ‘Innocent,’” one man whispered to the rabbi.The rabbi knew, however, that there really was no chance at all. The priest wouldnot run the risk that either chance or God would save the Jews; both pieces of  paper undoubtedly had the same word on them: “Guilty.”“Choose already,” the priest commanded. The rabbi quickly pulled out a piece of  paper, put it in his mouth, and swallowed it. “What have you done?” the priestcried out. “How will we know which paper you swallowed?” “Look at the onewhich is still in the hat,” the rabbi said. “Whatever it reads, I swallowed theopposite.”
Sometimes, there is no good option
. But it takes a bit of wisdom, a bit of courage,a bit of ingenuity, to find the best way out of a situation.In the unfortunately long history of Jewish captives, there is often no good option.To leave a person in captivity denies the notion of family and of compassion thatare cornerstones of our identity. To pay a ransom that might encourage futurecaptives or to release hostages that might lead to future attacks negates our obligation to avoid danger.Yet
does provide guidance in how to deal with such a situation. The
, by JosephTelushkin (William Morrow, 1992), p. 150.
mitzvah of redeeming captives is considered to be one of the great commandments- it is so important a mitzvah that one may even use money that has been donatedto build a synagogue in order to pay the ransom to free a Jew in captivity.(Maimonides, Hilchot Matanot Ani’im 8:11) At certain times in Jewish history,this – tragically – has been a practical law.But when R’ Meir of Rothenberg was taken captive in the Middle Ages, herefused to let the community pay the ransom. He was afraid that this would leadto more kidnappings, to more attempts to secure ransoms for the Jewish people.At one point, the community offered to pay 23,000 pounds of silver to redeemtheir leader. He refused to allow the deal go through. In the end, he died incaptivity, and a wealthy Jew named Alexander Wimpfen paid the ransom for his body in exchange for the honour of ultimately being buried next to the great sage.One can still see the adjacent graves in the Worms Jewish cemetery.In the past weeks, many have pointed to the example of R’ Meir of Rothenberg as proof that Gilad Shalit should not be ransomed. It will just encourage morekidnappings, they claim.But the troubling truth is that Hamas does not need an incentive to carry out morekidnappings. Terrorists who, in the last decade, have fired more than 8,600 rocketattacks at Southern Israel don’t need incentive to kidnap. They hate Israel becauseit’s a Jewish state, and they kidnapped Gilad Shalit because he was a Jewishsoldier.And this, rightfully, scares us. Who wants to be singled out in this way? Whofinds joy in being targeted, in being perceived as so…different from the rest of theworld?And yet, on this holiday of celebration, it seems that the fact that we are different – unique, I should say – is highlighted, and even celebrated.We find this message in the rituals of Sukkot and Shmini Atzeret. On Sukkot, thesacrifice consists of 70 oxen; on Shemini Atzeret, only one is offered as asacrifice. The Talmud (Sukah 55b) says that the seventy sacrifices of Sukkotcorrespond to the seventy nations of the world. The one sacrifice that is offered onShemini Atzeret corresponds to one nation. The Talmud suggests the parable of aking who orders his servants to prepare a large feast for him [that would last for several days]. On the final day of feasting and celebrating, he says, make a smallmeal that I will enjoy.
 Ata bechartanu mikol ha’amim
, you have chosen us from among the nations. We
are chosen to attend that small, private, intimate meal. This is a day of pride in our  particularity, when we celebrate God’s establishing a separate relationship withthe Children of Israel.Tragically, it is often not our religion or tradition or values that have made usaware of our uniqueness. Others – other nations, other religions, other people – have reminded us that we are different.And this past week was no exception to this sad and unfortunate fact:
1,027 to 1
.Israel, you are not the same. You will be held to a different standard, you will beforced to make decisions that no nation and no people should ever be forced tomake. And don’t expect the world to see your situation in a balanced way.This was the week when we read about the concept of a prisoner swap, with theimplied moral equivalency – my prisoner for yours. This was the week when theSecretary General of the United Nations said "The United Nations has been callingfor (an end to) the unacceptable detention of Gilad Shalit and also the release of allPalestinians whose human rights have been abused all the time." This was theweek when CNN ran features on families of terrorists who have missed their father, brother, son, while he serves multiple well-earned life sentences in jail, andgave equal airtime to the Shalit family. This was the week in which the IDF wentto great lengths to ensure that no photographs were publicly released of GiladShalit until has family had a chance to see him, and Egypt thought nothing of  prolonging (and becoming a partner in) Gilad’s captivity by forcing him to sitthrough an interview before he received medical care, and before he was reunitedwith his family. This was the week that the Bureau of Committee on Exercise of Inalienable Rights of Palestinian People issued the statement that it is “appalledthat Palestinian prisoners and their families have been used as hostages by theIsraeli government!”
 Did I get that right? Israel is the hostage taker? Israel releases over one thousand poor, captive, hostages – vulnerable people, like one who was an accomplice inthe Sbarro bombing that killed 15 Israelis, and like the one who planned the 2002 bombing of the Park Hotel in Netanya on Passover…and Israel takes the blame?Indeed, this was the week in which we felt so alone in the world, wondering if anyone else is seeing just how absurd this is!
 Do we really need a holiday to remind us that we are different?!?
I believe it is for this reason that the rabbis were not simply satisfied with our 

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