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Parashat B’reishit (Genesis 1:1-6:8)

And God called the light day and the dark, night;

and there was evening and there was morning, a first day (Gen. 1:5)

Gilad Shalit came home yesterday after enduring 1,941 days in captivity.  While there yet will be discussion and debate about the politics and practicalities of the agreement with Hamas, for this one moment, at least, Jews around the world are united in relief and joy.

You don’t have to believe in ritual observance to fulfill the commandment, “V’samachta b’chagecha” (you shall rejoice in your holidays; Deut. 16:14); a Jewish boy who was in mortal danger is home safe and sound for Sukkot.

This is not the first time a return from captivity is connected to rejoicing on Sukkot.  When King Cyrus of Persia defeats the Babylonians in 539 BCE, he permits the Jews to return from their exile to Jerusalem. Ezra the Scribe teaches the leaders of the returned community the laws and rituals forgotten in two generations of exile.  “The whole community that returned from captivity made booths and dwelt in the booths…and there was great rejoicing” (Nechemia 8:17).  In some way, we all have been captive these past five years, and with Gilad Shalit’s return we too have been released.

This Shabbat we begin again the annual cycle of Torah reading.  Parashat B’reishit describes not only the creation of the world, but also the origins of family discord and the first homicide.  When God questions Cain about Abel’s disappearance, Cain responds, famously, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9).  Gilad Shalit’s safe return after five years reminds us the answer is “yes.”  And that is why our joy this week is incomplete.  Yehuda Katz, Zachary Baumel, Zvi Feldman, Ron Arad, and Guy Hever, five Israeli soldiers less well-known than Gilad Shalit, are still missing in action, their whereabouts and fates unknown.  What are we doing on their behalf?

Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom,

David

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