NCYI Dvar Torah for Parshat Miketz - Pollard Freedom Shabbos

National Council of Young Israel - December 15, 2001 - 30 Kislev 5762
Daf Yomi: Baba Metzia 23

This Dvar Torah is dedicated in honor of Jonathan Pollard and is sponsored by National Council of Young Israel and The Committee to Bring Jonathan Home, Israel. NCYI is the only National Organization, Jewish or Non-Jewish, actively involved in procuring his release and in contact with him on a weekly basis.

Parshat Miketz is the Torah portion in which Yosef Hatzadik is redeemed from captivity. We, therefore, have chosen to dedicate this Shabbat to the Mitzvah of Pidyon Shevuyim, and particularly to redeeming the most neglected of captives, our brother Jonathan Pollard.

There are four principle arguments often given for neglecting the cause of Pidyon Shevuyim in general, and for the lack of action on behalf of Jonathan in particular. Below is a sampling of such defenses.

Justification #1

: Is Pollard my brother? He's a far-off prisoner, and I have priorities closer to home.

Justification #2

: I am involved in teaching Torah and my students cannot be neglected.

Justification #3

: I am busy supporting my family; I have no time left for other activities.

Justification #4

: The times are extraordinary-there is a danger of no less than a world war, and besides, rocking the boat with the world's surviving superpower could bring dire results.

In Genesis chapter 14, we read of a war between the Four Kings and the Five Kings. The former, in the course of winning the battle, takes Avraham's nephew Lot captive. We read of Avraham's response in verse 14: "And Avraham heard that his brother was taken captive, and he armed his disciples, those born in his household, three hundred and eighteen, and he pursued them up to Dan."

Let's examine the verse phrase by phrase, to see how our Patriarch Avraham dealt with Lot in his hour of need:

1. "And Avraham heard that his brother was taken captive..." Comments the Medrash Tanchuma: Was (Lot) his brother? From here we see Avraham's outstanding character; despite the dispute between Lot's shepherds and those of Avraham, Avraham still calls Lot his brother.

Lot's shepherds (and thus Lot) were guilty of nothing less than theft, grazing in the fields of others. The rift between the meticulous Avraham and the lax Lot was inevitable. Nonetheless, when the latter was captured, Avraham automatically considered him as his flesh and blood-his brother. All other considerations fell by the wayside.

2. "...and he armed his disciples..." Avraham had dedicated his life to the overarching goal of bringing the knowledge of the One G-d to mankind. But when a former disciple-wayward though he may have been-was placed in jeopardy, he dropped everything and gave his charges the greatest education he could: action.

3. "...those born in his household, three hundred and eighteen..." Rabeinu Bachya comments: "this verse comes to teach us that Avraham had no less than 318 charges dependent on his financial support." Avraham had far more than a family of seven or ten to support, but nonetheless turned his attention to Lot's straits.

4.In the previous verse (Gen. 14:13) we read:

"And the refugee came and told Avraham, and he dwelt in Elonei Mamrei..."

What is the relevance of telling us of Avraham's whereabouts at this dramatic juncture? Particularly since in the previous chapter (Gen. 13:18) we had already been duly informed of Avraham's abode! The subtle message maybe that despite Elonei Mamrei/Hevron's proximity to the site of the rising world power, Avraham chose not to flee and save his own tribe from the impending conquest of his area nor to lie low and act with political expedience, but on the contrary, to muster his own meager force to save the life of a single recalcitrant soul in danger.

What was the underlying impetus for Avraham's seemingly illogical determination in the face of so many solid justifications to turning a blind eye? The Midrash Rabba tells us explicitly: "'And Avraham heard that his brother was taken captive' this is what is meant by the verse (Is 33), 'he seals his ears from hearing bloodshed.' 'And he armed his disciples'...R. Yehuda said (Avraham's disciples) were angry with Avraham and said, five kings were unable to defeat (the four kings), shall we be able to? R. Nehemiah said, Avraham was angry with them and said, I will go and fall in sanctification of G-d's name."

The secret of Avraham's tenacity in defiance of all apparent reason was the secret of Avraham's entire life: the sanctification of G-d's name. Abandoning a captive --all logic and contrary arguments notwithstanding-- amounts to a desecration of G-d's holy name. To avoid this, one is obliged to sacrifice not only career and livelihood, but also indeed one's very life.

Jonathan Pollard's abandonment by the Jewish community both in Israel and the Diaspora is the greatest Chillul HaShem imaginable. Still, no one is being asked to sacrifice life or limb to redeem him; however, a few hours of recreational time is certainly not too much to ask for the sake a brother, one who has sacrificed his whole life to alert his beloved people of a very real threat to the Holy Land and her inhabitants.

The Mitzvah of Pidyon Shevuyim is summed up powerfully by Maimonides as follows: "Pidyon Shevuyim takes precedence over feeding and clothing for the destitute, and there is no greater Mitzvah than Pidyon Shevuyim, for the captive is counted among the hungry and the unclothed, and his very life is endangered. He who turns a blind eye from his redemption transgresses four separate negative commandments, and neglects at least four positive commandments. There is no Mitzvah as exalted as Pidyon Shevuyim."

In this week's Parsha, Yehuda makes the bold pledge to his father, on behalf of Binyamin: "I shall be a guarantor for him, from my hand you shall seek him; if I do not bring him back and return him to you, I shall be considered to have sinned before you all my days."

The Midrash recounts that King David relived his ancestor Yehuda's pledge in taking on the giant Goliath in order to redeem Binyamin's descendent Shaul from his Philistine captivity. Not only did David overcome all the odds and defeat the colossus; but in the merit of his self-sacrifice the Temple was built in Yehuda and Binyamin's portions.

May the Al-Mighty hear our prayers and redeem our brother Yehonatan ben Malka, and in the merit of our rededication to this supreme Mitzvah may G-d redeem all of Israel from our sufferings and rebuild the Beit Hamikdash speedily in our times.

Basic Facts About the Pollard Case

  1. Jonathan Pollard was a civilian American Naval intelligence analyst. In the mid 1980's (circa 1983-1984), Pollard discovered that information vital to Israel's security was being deliberately withheld by certain elements within the U.S. national security establishment.

  2. Israel was legally entitled to this vital security information according to a 1983 Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries.

  3. The information being withheld from Israel included Syrian, Iraqi, Libyan and Iranian nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare capabilities - being developed for use against Israel. It also included information on ballistic missile development by these countries and information on planned terrorist attacks against Israeli civilian targets.

  4. Pollard was painfully aware that Israeli lives were being put in jeopardy as a result of this undeclared intelligence embargo. He did everything he possibly could to stop this covert policy and to have the legal flow of information to Israel restored. When his efforts met no success, he began to give the information to Israel directly.

  5. Jonathan Pollard never had a trial. At the request of both the U.S. and Israeli governments, he entered into a plea agreement, which spared both governments a long, difficult, expensive and potentially embarrassing trial.

  6. Jonathan Pollard fulfilled his end of the plea agreement, cooperating fully with the prosecution.

  7. Nevertheless, Pollard received a life sentence and a recommendation that he never be paroled - in complete violation of the plea agreement he had reached with the government.

  8. Jonathan Pollard was never indicted for harming the United States: compromising codes, agents, or war plans and was never charged with treason.

  9. Jonathan Pollard was indicted on only one charge: one count of passing classified information to an ally, without intent to harm the United States.

  10. No one else in the history of the United States has ever received a life sentence for passing classified information to an ally - only Jonathan Pollard. The median sentence for this offense is two to four years. Even agents who have committed far more serious offenses on behalf of hostile nations have not received such a harsh sentence.

  11. In November 1995, Israel granted Jonathan Pollard Israeli citizenship. The official presentation took place in January of 1996. This publicly signaled to the U.S. Israel's willingness to accept full responsibility for Pollard.

  12. On May 12, 1998 , in the same statement in which the Government of Israel publicly acknowledged Jonathan Pollard as an Israeli agent, it accepted full responsibility for him, and indicated its commitment to securing his release and repatriation to Israel.

  13. Beginning in 1991 Rabbi Mordecai Eliyahu, the former Chief Rabbi of Israel, and Jonathan's rabbi, offered himself to the U.S. Justice Department as Jonathan's guarantor. The offer was ignored. Rabbi Eliyahu repeated the same offer every year after that in private letters to President Clinton.

  14. The Wye Plantation summit is a prime example of U.S. exploitation of Jonathan Pollard. Both before and again during the Wye summit negotiations in the fall of 1998, President Clinton promised to release Jonathan Pollard. Pollard was the deal-maker at Wye which enabled the accords to be completed.

    In an attempt to justify Clinton's reneging at Wye, a story was leaked to the press that George Tenet, a Clinton appointee, had threatened to resign as head of the CIA if Pollard were released.

  15. In September of 1999, despite strenuous opposition from all of his government advisors and agencies, President Clinton granted clemency to 14 unrepentant Puerto Rican terrorists, members of the FALN, a militant group responsible for over 100 bombings that killed six people and maimed dozens of others, including several New York City police officers. In doing so, he unequivocally put the lie to the notion that any government agency might tie his hands or influence his decision in matters of clemency.

  16. On November 21, 2001, Jonathan Pollard entered the seventeenth year of his life sentence, with no end in sight.