PARSHAT BO

STILL IN CAPTIVITY

“That very day the Lord freed the Israelites from the land of Egypt, troop by troop.”  (Exodus 12:51)

            This week we read about the great redemption of Israel from slavery to freedom.  As we sing at the Passover Seder which celebrates the exodus, avadim hayinu ata b’nai horim, “We were slaves, now we are free.”  The Seder also teaches that the redemption from Israel is not a one-time event.  “In every generation a person must see himself or herself aa if he or she was redeemed from Egypt.”  Redemption is an ongoing process in every generation.

            There is a hint of this by the Hebrew term for Egypt – Mitzrayim.  The word means “a narrow place.”  All of us have moments in our life when we are stuck in a narrow place, whether an illness, a bad relationship, financial hardship, or other painful difficulties.  And all of us can be sustained by the belief that we can find redemption and move out of this narrow place.  Passover celebrates an event in history but also a universal occurrence in each of our lives.

            Sadly, today there are innocent people who are literally in a narrow place.  Over one hundred Israeli hostages are still being held by Hamas in dark tunnels in Gaza.  Some 240 were originally kidnapped, some have been released and many have probably died.  How horrible for their families not to know their fate.    We do not know the exact number who are still alive.  But this week we passed the 100-day mark since the Hamas terrorist attack.  And the tragedy of the hostages continues.

            We know that many of the women (and some men) were sexually abused by their captors.  What is sad but not surprising is the silence from the various women’s rights movements throughout the world.  The UN Women, a human rights group, condemned the attack after 50 days, then removed the condemnation, simply calling for the release of hostages.  The National Organization of Women put out a late, weak statement in the end of November that never mentioned Hamas.  Some Jewish feminist leaders, in reaction, put out a new hashtag #MeToo_Unless_UR_A_Jew.  

            What can be done about the hostages?  People throughout the world including many political leaders in the United States are calling for an immediate ceasefire.  Nobody likes war and everybody is saddened by civilian casualties in the Gaza war.  But a ceasefire would destroy any chance of ever getting the hostages out of Gaza.  From my limited perspective, and I am not a political or military expert, military pressure combined with diplomatic action behind the scenes will eventually lead to their release.

            Many of us are doing whatever we can to keep attention on the hostages.  Synagogues are setting up an empty seat with a sign that it is reserved for a hostage.  Pictures are put up in public places.  But sadly, many people are displaying their hatred of Israel or latent antisemitism by ripping down those signs.  Meanwhile, we can continue to pray.  If our tradition teaches anything, it is the belief that God can bring us from captivity to freedom.  It may not happen right away.  But it will happen.

            Sadly, in the eyes of much of the world, Israel can do nothing right.  South Africa has brought formal charges to the World Court accusing Israel of genocide.  The strange irony is that Germany, the one country that did commit genocide, has come out in defense of Israel.  It was Hamas who publicly proclaimed its desire to commit genocide, to kill not simply every Israeli but every Jew.  Israel has always had a policy of tahor haneshek, literally “purity of arms,” seeking to avoid civilian deaths as much as possible.

            For those who continue to castigate Israel in this conflict, I want to remind them of the words of Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg.  “If the Arabs would lay down their arms tomorrow, there would be no more war.  If Israel would lay down her arms tomorrow, there would be no more Israel.” 

            Let us pray that we can see the movement from captivity to freedom speedily in our day.