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Shalom Orzach

Crime and Punishment

The Torah readings from the Book of Bereishit which normally usher new, if not optimistic, beginnings, together with familiar yet distant stories are becoming all the more excruciatingly close and daunting rather than familiar. Phrases and events appear to be disconcertingly more timely than timeless. We cannot for a moment stop thinking about two hundred and twenty four hostages, heinously kidnapped, and their dear families who are experiencing indescribable anguish. How can we possibly approach Shabbat and the portion of Lech Lecha, which records two agonizing episodes of kidnappings?

In the first, it appears as if Avram is actively responsible for authoring the “crime and punishment” whereas in the second occurrence Avram, without a moment’s hesitation acts to secure the release of those kidnapped. 

Sarai and Avram journeyed to Egypt due to the severe famine in Canaan. In a bewildering predicament Avram, ostensibly primarily concerned with his safety, creates a deception as to the true identity of Sarai, and as such she is kidnapped by Pharaoh’s courtiers. How can we begin to fathom the story from the eyes and experiences of Sarai? It becomes even more staggering when in the following chapter we learn of the regional war taking place between the major empires of the time. Zooming in, we are informed, as is Avram, by a refugee no less, that Lot and his family have been taken hostage. Avram, the Ivri, the outsider, the other, as he is called for the first time, rallies an army and performs a lightning surprise attack and rescues Lot and his family. A favorable ending we are all praying for as we remain  more focused on those 224 awaiting release. 

Yes there appears to be a satisfactory ending for Sarai too, albeit through the intervention of God, but this does not satisfy! The abduction of innocent people is abhorrent, deemed a war crime or a crime that initiates war, by Avram himself at that time. 

Is it conceivable that Avram engineered the kidnapping of Sarai in order to challenge if not abrogate this seemingly acceptable norm? In this slightly more hopeful version of events, Sarai too, plays an undercover agent to enforce a more ethical approach to human life. Both engage in a formidable role in protesting evil, through astute means, and military force. When even the “progressive” voices in the world are deafeningly silent, or worse unabashedly condoning such barbaric acts, these accounts recording our foundational stories are indeed a timely and crucial reminder.

Shabbat shalom

About the Author
Shalom is a senior educator and consultant for The iCenter and serves as faculty for the Foundation for Jewish Camp . Prior, he served as the AVI CHAI Project Director and Director of Education in the Shlichut and Israel Fellows unit for the Jewish Agency. He has served as a consultant for the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Jewish Peoplehood Committee. Shalom was also a scholar on the prestigious Jerusalem Fellows Program, after which he served as the Executive Director of Jewish Renewal for United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA). Shalom is an acclaimed public speaker on contemporary Israel who brings extensive knowledge, humor and passion. He feels privileged to live in Jerusalem and loves sharing stories about life in the Land of so much Promise.
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