No gain from the pain

Israel must lead the free world in its refusal to negotiate with terrorists, no matter the momentary gain.

torah 311 (photo credit: Israel Weiss
torah 311
(photo credit: Israel Weiss
Early on in the unfolding history of Abraham, the Bible depicts four marauding kings who invaded Sodom and in an act of terror seized Abram’s nephew and adopted son, Lot, taking him prisoner. Abram entered the foray of battle, routed the despotic terrorists and rescued his innocent kinsman.
The Bible pictures two very different reactions to Abram and his victory: He is first greeted by Melchizedek, ruler of Jerusalem, who offers him bread and wine. Abram is then confronted by the King of Sodom who attempts to negotiate a deal: “Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself” (Genesis 14:23).
Abram rebuffs the offer of any material gain.
He said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich’ (Genesis 14: 22-23).
What, if anything, can we learn from Abram’s conduct in dealing with the terrorist captors, especially in the light of our recent experience orchestrating the return of our nation’s beloved son Gilad Schalit? Let us first review the talmudic teachings regarding freeing captives, after which we shall return to Abram (Abraham) and his experience.
The Mishna teaches: It is forbidden to redeem captives for a greater amount than the “going rate” for the sake of repairing society (BT Gittin 45a). The Amoraic discussion that follows queries whether the reason for the limitation on the price of payment is so as not to overly burden the Jewish community or whether it is in order not to encourage the kidnapping of Jews. The difference would be relevant were a wealthy individual to offer personally to pay the exorbitant amount. If the concern is so as not to burden the community, he would be permitted to do so, but if the concern is not to encourage further kidnappings he would be forbidden.
A later talmudic passage (Gittin 58a), records a poignant incident in which Rabbi Joshua ben Hananya was visiting a large Roman city when he was informed of the captivity of a handsome and brilliant Jewish teenager. The sage stood before the prison window and called out the beginning of the verse: “Who caused Jacob to be torn about and Israel to be despoiled?” (Isaiah 42:24). The youth responded immediately with the conclusion of the verse, “Is it not the Lord, against whom we have sinned, by our not being desirous of walking in His paths or of listening to His Torah?” Rabbi Joshua declared, “I am certain that this young man will be a teacher of Jewish law in Israel. I swear before God not to move from this place without paying whatever extravagant price may be asked in order to secure his release.” And indeed the freed prisoner eventually became none other than Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha, High Priest.
The Tosafists explain the reason for the extravagant payment was that this young man’s life was in danger, whereas the earlier prohibition to pay more than the going rate referred to a situation in which there was no such mortal danger. Alternatively, they suggest that the young man was a budding Torah scholar and therefore would be an invaluable boon to the Jewish people.
Certainly Gilad Schalit’s life was in danger. Moreover, the message that Israel will do whatever is necessary to bring our captive prisoners home is important to the morale of all of our soldiers in the IDF. From these perspectives, it was important to have rescued him. The argument on the other side is also cogent: Freeing 1,027 unrepentant Hamas terrorists, many of whom have blood on their hands, is an imminent danger to our Israeli citizenry.
Ultimately, it was spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef who ruled that since the danger to Schalit’s life were he to remain in the hands of Hamas was close to definite, and the possibility that the freed Palestinians would succeed in murdering Israelis was more questionable, Schalit should be brought home despite the exorbitant price.
I must admit that as I was riveted to the TV screen watching every moment of Schalit’s return, I was immensely proud to be a Jew and an Israeli. What other nation would have risked their lives and the lives of their loved ones to save one single Jew from Palestinian captivity? Undoubtedly, one Gilad Schalit was worth far more than the 1,027 Palestinians who are hell-bent on destroying innocent Israeli citizens.
Having said all of this, it is fascinating that although Abraham, our father, negotiated with the Philistines and allowed them to live in the Negev, he never entertained the notion of negotiating with Chedorlaomer and his terrorist cohorts in order to attempt to save Lot without going to war; Abraham wouldn’t even negotiate with the king of Sodom, his ally in this war, in order to procure some benefit from his victory against terror. Abraham wanted it to be known that one must fight against terror in order to extirpate evil, period. He freed Lot, the victim of terrorism, but would not even take a shoelace to benefit himself.
Israel must remember that it is a sovereign state on the front lines in a world war against terrorism. It is from the backdrop of this responsibility that it must lead the free world in its refusal to negotiate with terrorists, no matter the momentary gain.
The writer is the founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone Colleges and Graduate Programs and chief rabbi of Efrat.