My social media feeds are filled with missing people. Gone are the posts about people's weekend plans, friends sharing their kids' accomplishments or showing off new haircuts. Instead, I see a constant stream of missing posters, empty tables, rows and rows of snapshots of babies and children. I'm trying to take it in small doses in order to protect myself from the overwhelm, but at the same time, when I am spending time on social media, I scroll right on by the mundane stuff and find myself riveted to the stories of the hostages and pleas for their safe return to their families.
Focusing my attention on freeing the hostages is also less fraught than thinking about the possibility of a ground incursion into Gaza, than confronting the fear that no action on Israel's part can be both internationally supported and effectively deal with Hamas. It's concrete - I can see their faces, read their names, offer up my prayers and my hashtags (#bring_hersh_home) for their safety.
It's also a Jewish value - פדיון שבויים - pidyon sh'vuyim, freeing captives.
With a few notable exceptions, this value has not occupied my thoughts regularly, but it's all I think about right now. So when I was considering what to share with us this week related to Parashat Lekh L'kha, I was immediately drawn to the story of Lot being taken as a prisoner of war and being rescued by his uncle, Avraham. (For a fuller version, read Genesis Chapter 14.) Lot and Avraham had separated in order to give each of them enough land to live on peacefully and comfortably, but this inadvertently put Lot in harm's way. He got caught up in a war between local kings and was taken captive. Avraham mustered all of his wealth and the people in his sphere of influence, launched a surprise nighttime attack, and rescued Lot, along with the other people who were held with him.
There are a few things we can learn about pidyon sh'vuyim from this story. First, freeing captives is not cheap, but it's worth it. Avraham took 318 people with him on his rescue mission and (according to a number of midrashic texts) paid them handsomely for their service. Rescuing those held in captivity will take actual and political capital. Hundreds of people protested outside the UN this week to call for diplomatic action to free the hostages. Family members and politicians are meeting with government officials from across the world, sharing the stories of the captives and doing whatever they can to raise awareness and motivation to secure their release.
Next, everyone's story is our story. Avraham went to find and rescue his nephew, his family, but he came back with all of the other people who had been taken prisoner. He didn't ignore the plight of the others with whom Lot was in captivity. If you've been following this part of the news from Israel, then you've probably seen stories or read articles about Rachel Goldberg and Jon Polin, whose son, Hersh Goldberg-Polin, is gravely injured and among the more than 200 hostages held in Gaza. They are speaking out and meeting with people in power to bring their son home. And they are talking about all of the hostages, and trying to bring them home as well. In addition to the public acts - collages of posters emblazoned with the word "KIDNAPPED," the rows of empty chairs, or the protests - which are focusing attention on all of the hostages, it's remarkable to note that the families of those who are being held are not just focusing on their own children, parents, partners, siblings. They are speaking up for all of those captured by Hamas.
And finally, we don't hesitate to take action. When Avraham learns of Lot's abduction, he springs into action, gathering his troops and pursuing Lot's captors. Immediately after it became clear that so many had been taken, Jewish communities around the world started clamoring to do what we could to help get them home. We've been praying - saying Psalms and reciting the prayer אחינו (Aḥeinu), which was written for this purpose. We have been giving money, time, and our voices to help spread their stories as widely as possible and encourage diplomatic leaders to take action.
If only there was more we could do. But we've shown no signs of stopping, and we won't until they all come home.