A People That Dwells Alone

Like many if not all of you, I was overcome with joy when I heard last weekend of the rescue of four Israeli hostages from captivity by Hamas and its ‘civilian’ accomplices in the Nuseirat district of Gaza. Though several dozen Israelis remain in the hands of their brutal captors, this was a tangible indication that Pidyon Shvuyim, the redemption of captives, is, has always been, and will remain among the paramount values of Israel and the Jewish people. Watching video of beachgoers in Tel Aviv, or Israeli tourists in Athens crying and celebrating upon hearing the news truly demonstrates our connection to each other.

It raises the question, though; among all the nations of the world, we alone have baked the notion of redemption of captives into our national ethos. Sure, it is something most nations or peoples value, but is it their version of a mitzvah or commandment? Is it said at the beginning of their daily prayers every morning, and also in the Amidah three times a day every day?

No, it isn’t.

We are Am Levadad Yishkon, as the Torah says, a Nation that dwells alone. Our experiences, our sacrifices, our tragedies and our triumphs are what sets us apart, what makes us unique. Our challenges - especially those we face today - are ones that no other nation faces. On the weekend, I saw one BBC anchor ask retired Lt. Col Jonathan Conricus, former spokesperson for the IDF, why Israel didn’t warn Gazans of the operation to free the hostages - didn’t it have that responsibility? You could see the incredulity in his eyes. This is the absurd standard a morally unhinged world expects of us and our heroes in the IDF. This is the flip side of our unique qualities of perseverance, learning, generosity, tenaciousness and courage demonstrated on a national level. The moral inversion and macabre, absurd expectations and accusations are also an inheritance of times and persecutions past.

We’ve overcome them before, and we’ll do it again.

The nation that dwells alone stood together- but alone among the nations- at Sinai, as we celebrated this week with the Shavuot holiday. Over time we shared the blueprint for moral society that we received at Sinai with the world. We informed great religions, philosophies, and social movements with it. Some, who see societies only in terms of domination and subservience, may see the contribution of Sinai as a shackle, an impediment to their bloodthirstiness. And they have taken out their anger at being so restrained on the Jewish people, we who aspire to be once again the very messengers of morality.

So, when you smile or cry or give thanks at the redemption of our sisters and brothers again this week, remember that it is our ethos that holds our captives close even when they are in the hellish tunnels of Rafah or the ‘civilian’ apartments of Nuseirat. It is the ethos of Sinai that sustains them, and sustains us. It is the ethos of a people that dwells alone that gives us the strength to persevere, though all the legions of moral inversion stand against us.

Dwell Alone. Stand Together.

Shabbat Shalom