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Vayetzu – And They Left

This week’s Torah portion is Vayetze (and he left). In it, Jacob left his hometown of Beersheva and traveled to Charan. On the way, he had a dream of a ladder connecting heaven and earth, with angels climbing up and down. God appears, and promises the land to Jacob and his descendants.

While in Charan, we learn that Jacob stays and works for his uncle Laban for seven years. Despite being promised Laban’s daughter Rachel, Jacob is tricked into marrying her sister, Leah. However, he still wishes to marry Rachel, and remains and works a further seven years, finally marrying his true love.

Rachel, Leah, and their handmaids Bilhah and Zilpah, give birth to 13 of Jacob’s children (12 boys and a girl). Jacob becomes the the father of a nation, and in next week’s portion, would be given the name Israel – he who struggled with God.

Echoes of the parsha

This week’s parsha tells of the birth of 13 children of Israel. Coincidentally, and God willing, tomorrow morning, on November 24, Israel will receive in return 13 hostages who were ripped from their homes and their families on October 7.

13 children of Israel.

Over the last week, the talk of a hostage deal has brought emotions, already raw, to the surface. Just seven weeks ago the Jewish community’s soul was tortured with news of what happened in Israel. We have watched as our soldiers have valiantly waged a courageous and just war against our enemies, and we have cheered them on. At the same time, our hearts have broken anew each day, as we learn about the scale of the tragedy unleashed in just several hours, and its long-lasting impact.

Each new revelation is more startling than the week before. This week we learned that the Hamas terrorists learned how to say “take your pants off” in Hebrew, suggesting that the widespread rape was planned (*paging* literally every silent women’s rights group on the planet). We also learned that for the first time since the establishment of the State of Israel, burial societies have been burying the cars of victims who were murdered inside their vehicles, since other body parts cannot be found, and some remains can be located in, but not removed from, the vehicles. They have been burying cars to sanctify the dead.

We have also remembered. Aside from memorializing the dead, we have never forgotten the hostages. Hostages who were kidnapped, stolen from their homes, their beds, and from the arms of their parents, that Black Sabbath. They have never left our minds.

What can we believe?

Over the last few days, the hostage deal has kept changing. The number of hostages who would be released, the profile of the hostages, what Israel would be giving up in exchange for their return, and what else Hamas would offer.

Personally, word of this hostage deal has caused great angst. Though obviously, releasing the hostages is of the utmost importance, there is always a fear that what Israel needs to give up to get them back would jeopardize the war effort, and what Israel must do to eliminate Hamas. But, Israel values life. Pidyon shvuyim – the redemption of hostages – is one of the greatest mitzvot in Judaism. We would do anything to save one of our own. It is the right thing to do, especially when so many of the hostages are children. As a Jewish father, this is a no brainer.

Today however we learned that though Hamas previously agreed that they would give the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) access to the hostages they would be keeping in Gaza, that they would no longer be granting that access. They would simply “update” the ICRC about the hostages’ conditions. Ya right.

Earlier this week, we learned that Hamas may have “misplaced” 10 child hostages. Not all 240 are, after all, held by Hamas. They hold some, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) hold others, and then there are the apparently unaffiliated Palestinians who saw an opportunity on October 7, entering Israel, and kidnapping their own Israelis, who they are apparently keeping at their own homes, like pets. It is all just sick.

Bait and switch

I question our expectations, in reference to this week’s parsha. Jacob’s uncle Laban made him work for seven years to marry Rachel. After seven long years, Laban gave Jacob his daughter Leah instead. Jacob was, of course, stunned, but he opted to stay and work hard for the hand of his true love, Rachel. If he had not, he would not have had Joseph, and so on and so on. Jacob was fooled by someone with whom he thought he had a deal.

I worry about this bait and switch. Aside from the physical warfare, Hamas is playing a game of psychological warfare on the Israelis, and in particular on the parents, grandparents, and children of the loved ones who are currently held hostage. One day, families are given hope that they will be able to see their loved ones again, with that deal being changed the next day, and the terms of the deal re-negotiated, and switched. It is an unimaginable anguish. It is the ultimate psychological warfare, which yes, ought to be expected from a terror entity like Hamas, but which is tragic nonetheless.

Maayan Zin’s family was ripped from her on October 7. Her two daughter Dafna and Ela are believed to be held hostage in Gaza. Their father Noam is believed to have been murdered that day too. Though Maayan had hoped that this hostage deal would release her two children to her, she was informed earlier today that they are not on the list of the first 13 children of Israel to be released.

She wrote recently in the Washington Post:

I have nothing left to ask of this world but this: Take me to my girls. Take me to Gaza. I am requesting assistance from the Israeli government, the US government, the International Committee of the Red Cross and any other organization trying to help the hostages.

I cannot wait for more news of hostage deals to come and go.

You have failed to free my girls, so take me to Gaza. My bag is packed. I will take only a few items: chocolate milk that my daughters love, shoes that are good for running, and a new bandage for Ela – the last photograph we have of her in captivity shows that she is injured. Take me to Gaza so I can change her bandage.

In my jeans pocket I will carry a photograph of Noam, their father, who we believe was killed in front of their eyes. Take me to Gaza in his memory.

I too have chocolate milk in my fridge for my kids. I also change their bandages when they are hurt. We recently bought a new pair of running shoes for our daughter as well. We are all Maayan Zin.

My heart breaks for Maayan, and for every other family impacted. After a week of looking at their pictures, of defending the hostages against those who seek to defame them as colonialists or people who deserved it, and fighting those who dare rip down their posters, we know them, even if they don’t know us. They are us, and they are our family. We have met their families, and have learned their stories. We have cried with them, and we have tried to console them, even though we do not know what words can possibly be used to comfort one in that condition. Our futures are forever intertwined, and will remain together forever, as we navigate this new Jewish present and future.

One cannot imagine how slowly time has ticked by for the families of those waiting for the redemption of their captured children. 47 days, 1,128 hours, 67,680 minutes of grief.

As we await the release of these 13 children of Israel, we pray that in the future we will not read that “Vayetze” (and he left) but rather “Vayetzu” (and they left). That they left Gaza. That they climbed out of those tunnels on their own Jacob’s Ladder. That they left their tortured present to be welcomed home by the Nation of Israel, and that they left those who are still held hostage, praying for their own redemption.

About the Author
Adam Hummel is a lawyer specializing in immigration and estates law in Toronto, Canada. He is an active member of Toronto's Jewish community, and a member of the Jewish Diplomatic Corps of the World Jewish Congress. He writes regularly for his Substack, "Catch: Jewish Canadian Ideas."
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