After almost 100 days, we dare not allow hope to turn to despair. We will forfeit our humanity if we cease our struggle to save the hostages.
Yesterday, synagogues around the world began reading the Book of Exodus. Two lessons in that portion should capture our attention and our imagination.
Because Pharaoh had decreed that all male Jewish babies should be put to death, Moses’ mother hid him in a basket and sent it floating into the Nile River, hoping someone would find him and have mercy on him. Pharaoh’s daughter, who had come to the Nile to bathe, noticed the basket and, as the rabbis explain the language of the verse, she stretched out her hand toward the basket. Despite recognizing that the basket was too far away for her to reach from the riverbank, she nevertheless tried. As a reward for her effort, a miracle occurred, and her arm was extended many times its normal length so that she could reach it. (For those old enough to remember him, think Plastic Man!)
Sometimes in life, we are confronted with a seemingly hopeless situation. Someone is crying out for help, and it seems there is nothing we can do. But, if we try to the best of our abilities, we may be rewarded with success even when the odds are stacked impossibly against us. This will only happen if, like Pharaoh’s daughter, we extend ourselves even though the goal seems beyond our reach.
Later in the portion we learn that, after Moses grew up, he stumbled upon an Egyptian beating one of his Hebrew kinsman. The verse tells us that Moses “turned this way and that way, and he saw there was no one there, so he hit the Egyptian,” killing him to save the life of a fellow Jew. The simple interpretation is that Moses looked “this way and that way” out of fear, to ensure that no one would see what he was about to do. But, again, the rabbis offer another interpretation based on a deeper understanding of the phrase “ein ish” (there was no one there). Interpreting “ish” not just as “man” (or person), but rather as “good person” (like the Yiddish “mensch”), the rabbis teach that Moses acted not because there was no one present, but because there was no one present who was willing to help. Faced with others’ inaction, Moses stepped into the breach.
An “ish” (man, or person), maintains his or her humanity in the face of evil only by stepping up and taking action. It is our duty as human beings to fight for the hostages for as long as it takes.