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Bereshit 5772

Haftarah Parshat Breshit
(Isaiah 42:5-43:10)
October 22, 2011
24 Tishre 5772

These days, as the radio brings more detailed reports of the hostage deal for the release of Gilad Shalit from captivity, we can only pray for his quick release and that he will have survived the inhuman conditions of his terrorist captors. Nothing underscores these hopes more than the attributes God ascribes to Himself in this week’s haftarah: “I the Lord, in My righteousness, have called you, and have grasped you by the hand. I created you, and appointed you a covenant people, a light of nations – opening eyes deprived of light, rescuing prisoners from confinement, from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” (42:6-7)

Still, no one should understand from this prophecy that bartering for captives is such a simple issue. We must attempt to emulate God in our attempts to rescue those beleaguered souls captured by our enemies but for mortals there are sometimes other considerations which must be taken into account. The Mishnah records the following proscription: “Captives should not be redeemed for more than their value, on account of darchei shalom”, literally ‘ways of peace’ and probably meant to be understood here to mean ‘to prevent abuses’. The Talmud debates what the Mishnah means by darchei shalom: “The question was raised: Does darchei shalom relate to the [financial] burden which may be imposed on the community or to the possibility that the activities [of the bandits] may be stimulated, [in our case, that the terrorist might be encouraged to kidnap other Israelis]? Come and hear: Levi b. Darga ransomed his daughter for thirteen thousand denarii of gold. [Since he redeemed her himself and not with community money, the reason must be not to burden the community.] Said Abaye: But are you sure that he acted with the consent of the Sages? Perhaps he acted against the will of the Sages. (Gittin 45a)

The Talmud leaves the question it posed unresolved but the issues it raises are pertinent even today because they force us to look beyond what seems so simple. When is the price too high to redeem a captive? Should we be concerned with the effect of the deal on the morale of the enemy? What about those who expected justice to be exacted on the murderers of their loved ones? What about danger to the public from the release of murderers no less dastardly than those who bombed the Twin Towers? These factors must be weighed against the public morale in Israel and the morale of our soldiers who expect that their comrades will not be left behind. All of these factors create an enormous moral and religious dilemma for decision makers.

In Gilad’s case, the die has been cast. Now all we can hope for is Gilad’s safe return and peace and quiet for his fellow citizens.

About This Commentary

This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in  Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva.  He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
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