by Rabbi Ed Gelb
Director: Camp Ramah in New England
My favorite time at camp is undoubtedly Saturday evening after dinner when the campers sing the slower, melodic and haunting tunes of seudat shelishit (the third meal on Shabbat). My favorite song that always gives me goose bumps is “Acheinu.” Gilad Shalit has been held hostage virtually my entire tenure at Camp Ramah in New England. Here is the song, and if you know or your child knows it, sing it together over this coming holiday.
Acheinu kol beit yisrael, ha’netunim b’tzara uv’shivya, ha’omdim beyn bayam uvein bayabasha. Ha’Makom yirachem aleyhem v’yotziaym mitzara lirvacha, u’meafela l’orah umishibud lig’ulah, hashta ba’agala uvizman kariv.
Any of our brethren of the house of Israel, who are delivered into distress and captivity, whether they are on sea or dry land — may God have mercy on them and remove them from distress to relief, from darkness to light, from subjugation to redemption, now, speedily, and in our days.
Gilad Shalit has come home – to his family, to his friends, and to his country. Whether or not you think the price of the deal that got him there was too steep, you have to rejoice for him and those who love and care about him. Our Rosh Mishlachat (head of our Israeli delegation at camp), Rotem Ad-Epstein, wrote me a beautiful email that tried to capture the mood in Israel since Tuesday when the announcement was made. She said:
Since then Rabbi, I feel that even if it is for a short period of time that we will feel it, it’s worth it. I can now say, that after a long time that I had doubts, I again feel Jewish, I feel Israeli and I feel my nation. You can say that some people will feel it only in happy or sad times that it is happening, but I’m telling you, this time it is different. Without going into the details of the deal, we can’t ignore the values. Jewish and human values.
Rotem is correct. Her conclusions about our values go to the essence of Simchat Torah. On this holiday we rejoice that God gave us a Torah that changed the fundamental way human beings view this world. There are many aspects of Torah that we should celebrate. In Gilad Shalit’s case, we celebrate the Torah’s revolutionary idea that every single person is created in God’s image and therefore counts. Would any other nation go through so much or give up so much to save one person? It is our Talmud that teaches that if one saves a life, it is as if he saved the whole world.
Prior to the ascent of monotheism, the world did not value individual human life. In fact, human sacrifice, slavery, and wanton murder were commonplace. The notion that God created humanity from one original person – and in God’s image – means that we are all equal and have value.
Clearly, these ideals are not yet universally practiced or accepted. Thus, in a perversion of religion, many still murder others and even willingly give up their own lives doing so. Of course, this is where the “cost” side of the Gilad Shalit deal comes under criticism. To redeem Gilad, the Israeli government has to release many dangerous people.
Was it too high a price to pay? I don’t know. However, although much of the world will miss this message, the values statement Israel made in sacrificing so much to bring him home teaches once again the timeless message of the Torah and fulfills our role in the world to be a light unto the nations. This Simchat Torah, let us all rejoice in that.