t was almost two months ago that I wrote about #bringbackourgirls, lamenting the kidnapping of a school full of young girls in Nigeria and talking about the sad relevance of the mitzvah of pidyon sh'vuyim / redeeming captives.
Here we are again, two months after the Nigerian girls were captured by the Boko Haram terrorist group. Some of those girls escaped, some are still in captivity and are being held prisoner until they can be exchanged, apparently, for Boko Haram activists being held in Nigerian prisons. We do not know the fate or state of those girls. Let us not forget them as each news cycle brings us fresher causes for concern.
We must, though, protest, voice our outrage, yell into the wind: the new vogue in terrorism seems to be the capture of children. Three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped by the Hamas terror organization just over a week ago.
There is little sense in asking why when discussing an act of terror. The "why" is to generate terror. And now, apparently, with the well-oiled mechanisms of social media, a new "why" is to draw the world's attention to the terrorist cause. Free publicity. Had you ever heard of Boko Haram, or knew what it meant before mid-April? Had you grown complacent about Hamas as it took its place in the government of the Palestinian Authority? The horror of children in captivity is too painful to contemplate for more than a moment or two . . . but those children, the remaining captive Nigerian girls and Israel's three boys, are living that horror every single moment of every single day.
This week's Torah reading, Korach, opens with one of the Torah's most difficult passages. A leader from the tribe of Levi, Korach, stirs up a crowd and pushes into Moses' face challenging Moses' authority and therefore challenging God's choices and leadership as well. The fate of the rebels is brutal: they, their homes, their families are all swallowed up by the earth. This is, of course, a cautionary tale against challenging God's authority and decisions. At a time like ours, as we look with helpless outrage at the faces of terrorist-abducted children, we wish some of that biblical justice could be meted out right now while the children are whisked safe and sound back to the embrace of their families.
God has adjusted the parameters of divine intervention in human affairs since the days of Korach and, I believe, is a source of strength, wisdom and guidance for us in the face of events we cannot fathom alone. We will pray for Gilad Shaer, Naftali Frenkel and Eyal Yifrach . . . and their parents and all those who love them at Shabbat services here at Torat Yisrael.
For those of us who find that music helps express what is deepest in our hearts, here is a video of a song by two Israeli musicians:
Just as we began our celebration of Pesach/Passover about three weeks ago . . . the festival celebrating our redemption from Egyptian slavery . . . over 270 school girls in Nigeria were abducted from their boarding school. The terrorist leader who organized this mass kidnapping declared that the girls would be sold into slavery.
These girls need to be found and returned to their homes. Even if they were to be found this minute, it will be too late to spare them the agony of recovery from trauma, but at least they will be back in the embrace of the families who love them and who made the commitment to educate them (not a given in Nigeria).
When we gather in our synagogues around the world this Shabbat, we will be reading and discussing the parashah/Torah portion Behar. It is a Torah reading that poses profound challenges to us, especially this week, as we wait from day to day for news of the abducted Nigerian school girls. For this passage of Leviticus lays out the ground rules for the indentured servitude of Israelites and the slavery of non-Israelites. We have no choice but to acknowledge that the institution of slavery was a common and morally neutral economic reality in the ancient middle east.
However, the Israelite owner of a non-Israelite slave was permitted this relationship with very specific parameters which required care for the humanity and vulnerability of the slave. Thus, as Richard Elliott Friedman writes in his commentary on this week's parashah:
None of us watching the situation of the abducted Nigerian school girls believe that their humanity and dignity are being respected right now. We shudder to think of what is being done to them.
There is a principle of Jewish law that compels us to be as proactive as possible in bringing these girls back to safety, the mitzvah/commandment of פדיון שבויים / pidyon shvuyim / redeeming the captives. There is some controversy about the application of this imperative for it's roots are in the historic reality of the kidnapping of Jews for ransom over the years. Can we, therefore, consider it a mitzvah to redeem captive Nigerian school girls? Based on the writings of the great halachist [scholar of Jewish law] Rambam/Maimonides, I would say "yes":
We may wish that the US law enforcement experts could have arrived earlier, but at least they are there. What can we do, those of us who are not law enforcement experts on the ground?
Rabbi Amy Levin
has been Torat Yisrael's rabbi since the summer of 2004 and serves as President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.