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.