Jonathan Pollard - Our Teacher in Self-Sacrifice

HaRav Shlomo Aviner - Machon Meir - September 23, 2004 (Eve of Yom Kippur)

The struggle on behalf of Jonathan Pollard is a holy one.

In the Torah there are many mitzvoth, but we are only mere mortals; we do not manage to fulfill them all. Even so, the Rambam said (Teshuva 3:2), "Sometimes a person does one mitzvah that is worth many mitzvoth." Such a mitzvah is one that contains within it many others.

When we struggle on behalf of one Jew, we demonstrate that we love the Jewish People and love every individual Jew. We also show that we are ready to struggle on behalf of every single Jew. That is the underlying foundation of the Israeli army. When a Jew is in danger, an army of soldiers are ready to fight for him. "All for one and one for all."

When we fight for Jonathan, we are fighting against injustice, the awful injustice perpetrated against this man, an injustice perpetrated by the Americans. He was doing them a favor, saving them from shame by passing on information that they were supposed to pass on. They sentenced him to life in prison, a punishment never before meted out for his crime.

Before we engage in lofty rhetoric, we have to fight for there to be no injustice against any creature. This applies to all men and all beasts, and all the more so regarding our fellow Jews. When injustice is perpetrated, one cannot remain silent. One must cry out until the injustice is rectified. After that we can build up lofty mitzvoth, but first we remove the injustice.

Do we think that because we held a hunger-strike and demonstrated, Jonathan will automatically be freed tomorrow? Yet the point is that if sensitive people demonstrate, the matter will be rectified in the end. If, however, everyone remains mute and silent, uncaring, the matter will never be rectified. We have seen personally how throughout history the Jewish People suffered and others stood back and were silent. This struggle here is a mitzvah. We are fighting against injustice.

It is a mitzvah that says that we have enormous admiration for those who show self-sacrifice. Jonathan, after all, could have sat quietly and said, "What can I do?" Yet he sacrificed himself. He knew it was dangerous. To hand over information is a dangerous act. He knew what he could expect, yet he sacrificed himself.

There is a story in the Talmud about a man who died and then came back to life. They asked him, "What did you see?" and he replied, "I saw a topsy-turvy world. The important people were down low and the common people were up high." In other words, the high and mighty here on earth are worthless in the world to come, and those considered of no worth here have worth there.

They then responded, "You saw a world of clarity." Then they asked, "And what about us, those who learn Torah?" and he replied, "Fortunate is he who arrives there with his study under his belt, yet as for the martyrs of Lod, no creature can share their domain." The "martyrs of Lod" involved a blood libel. The Jews were accused of assassinating the king and threatening to kill the whole city. Two simple, innocent Jews came forward and voluntarily accepted the blame for the false accusation to save the rest of their brethern (Pesachim 50a).

We derive from this that self-sacrifice transcends all other levels of righteous behavior. Here on earth, Jonathan may be down low, on the bottom rung in prison. He is abused and starved, he is sick, he doesn't see the light of day, and he is afflicted. All this is here in this world, which is a unreal, topsy-turvy existence. Yet in G-d's eyes, he is way up high, higher than the millions of other people in America and Israel. He is higher than politicians and higher even than Torah scholars!

Even after he was caught, he continued to sacrifice himself so that his contacts from Israel would succeed in fleeing. Jonathan is our teacher in self-sacrifice. Through our mitzvah of struggling on his behalf, we demonstrate that self-sacrifice transcends all else. We want our teacher in self-sacrifice to be here with us. We are people of little self-sacrifice, and he is a person of great self-sacrifice. We want him to be in our midst for me and for us all, for the sake of the Jewish People, for the sake of justice, so that integrity can banish injustice from the human race.

This is the struggle that he bears on his shoulders. This is the struggle that we shall wage until his total liberation, soon in our day!

HaRav Shlomo Aviner is the Rosh Yeshiva of Ateret Cohanim Yeshiva of the Old City of Jerusalem, and the Rabbi of Bet-El.

See Also: