Israel's Debt of Gratitude to Jonathan Pollard

HaRav Shlomo Aviner - B'Ahava U B'Emunah - January 15, 2005

JP Note:

Originally published in Hebrew in two parts, (B'Ahava U B'Emunah, Machon Meir, 20 Tevet and 27 Tevet 5765), the following speech by HaRav Shlomo Aviner was first presented at a recent demonstration for Jonathan Pollard. It was translated to English by J4JP.

We have been standing here in the rain for a long time, getting drenched. It is good that we are doing this for Jonathan's sake; he got soaked for us with every fiber of his being. Jonathan Pollard is a man who never thought of himself, only of others. He nullified himself for the sake of others.

One might suppose that a man like this, who never thinks of himself only of others, would be someone easily destroyed by his enemies, quickly wiped off the face of the earth. After all, in this world - at least according to Darwin - only the strong survive. Kindly people disappear.

In G-d's world, however, that is not so. The huge and mighty dinosaur which neglected and abandoned its own offspring became extinct; but the small, fragile bird which carefully nurtures its young is still in existence today. Similarly, historically, what became of all of the mighty Kingdoms that persecuted the Jewish People? Egypt, Babylonia, Persia and Medes, Greece and Rome? They disappeared! But we, the Jewish People, are still here!

What nation represented the height of self interest in ancient times? Sodom! The people of Sodom refused to give a cent to the poor, for fear of being deprived themselves. A girl in Sodom who took pity on a poor person was burnt to death. Another was smeared with honey and left to be stung to death by bees.

Who, at that time, represented the polar opposite of self interest, nullifying himself and thinking only of others? Avraham Avinu! Avraham ran to receive guests, to take them in and care for them with all his might, even when he was in great pain, still suffering from his circumcision. Avraham put his nephew Lot first, nullifying his own desires by allowing Lot to choose first whatever territory he preferred. When Avraham learned that Lot had been taken captive, he did not think twice. He immediately enlisted all of his disciples to save him. Avraham prayed for Sodom. One would think that a man like Avraham, so self-sacrificing and not concerned for his own welfare, would be poor. Not so! Avraham was very wealthy! So much so that our sages said, "Better the fertilizer from Avraham's orchard than the wealth of Avimelech."

Avraham had a good heart. He thought of others, not of himself. Under his direction, Eliezer, Avraham's bondsman, sought a bride for Yitzhak (Avraham's son), with the same qualities, who did not think about herself, only of others. When Eliezer first encountered Rebecca, she ran from the well to the drinking trough to bring water for all who were thirsty. Eliezer concluded that she was the one that G-d had designated as a bride for Yitzhak (Genesis 24:14). Rashi expands on this: " As a doer of kind deeds she was worthy of Yitzhak, and she deserved to become a part of Avraham's family."

The same is true of Moses. Moses was a Prince of Egypt, but he chose to go forth to be with his brothers. (Exodus 2:11) He was consumed by concern for his brothers. Pharaoh offered him numerous positions, but he preferred to work in the Jewish concentration camps so that he might assist his People. When he saw an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew, he did not think twice; he killed the Egyptian. He knew that from now on the entire Egyptian security forces would be after him, and indeed that is what occurred. But G-d performed a miracle for him and "saved him from Pharaoh's sword." (Exodus 18:4). He didn't think about himself; only about others.

When Moses arrived in Midian, he saw the shepherds harassing Jethro's daughters and he immediately intervened. It was his first day as a stranger in a foreign land. As such, it might have been wiser to keep a low profile and not stand out by intervening; but he did not think for a second about what was best for him, only for others.

There are those who have no self interest, who think only of others; and there are those who think only of themselves. Jonathan Pollard is in the former category. Did he not know that he was taking a risk? Did he not know that the Americans are chauvinist, cruel and harsh in this matter? (Ed: America is proud of its vast covert spy operations spanning the globe and penetrating deep into the heartland of friend and foe alike, Israel included .Yet America is outraged by any effort on the part of Israel to defend its own national security interests in a similar fashion.) The truth is Jonathan risked himself, not just one time, but for every piece of critical information he attained.

This is like the Sea of Reeds in Egypt. It did not part from end to end when Nachshom jumped in. (Rabbenu Bachaye). Rather, the more he advanced, the more it parted: "The sea saw and fled" (Psalm 114:3). Every piece of information was a piece of self-sacrifice. Even when Jonathan was arrested, he delayed his interrogators as much as possible to enable the rest of the Israeli team to escape.

Jonathan is a man whose whole life is devoted to the good of others. Even now in prison, he is concerned about others. He writes; he speaks out; he does good deeds; he sends his wife to comfort mourners in Israel, and does every thing he can do from afar.

Jonathan epitomizes the essence of the Jewish People. The entire essence of the Jewish People is a People with no self-interest who care only for others. Regarding choosing a mate, the Shulchan Aruch counsels that one should investigate well to ensure that the person one chooses is not self-centered, lest he or she turn out to be not a Jew, but a Gibeonite.(Even HaEzer:2:2) The Gibeonites are not Jews. They are a hard-hearted people. Jews, by contrast, are known by 3 traits. They are humble, merciful and doers of kind deeds. (Yevamot 79a).

We, the Jewish People, who are concerned for others, and who stand here on behalf of a man who thought a great deal about others, must show gratitude. Gratitude precedes good-heartedness. Even people without a good heart are grateful to those who have done them favors. The book "Chovot HaLevavot" makes clear that the foundation of all morality and all good traits is gratitude.

Gratitude is of supreme importance to the Jewish People. The Torah demands it even regarding Egypt: "Do not despise the Egyptian, since you were an immigrant in his land." (Deuteronomy 23:8). This is in reference to the terrible "hospitality" of backbreaking labor and harsh edicts which mandated throwing infants into the river or slaughtering children for their blood! Even so, at the time we had nowhere else to be but Egypt, so we are required to show gratitude.

We are similarly required to show gratitude to dogs, because as we exited Egypt, "not a dog barked" (Exodus 11:7). We left at midnight with the Angel of Death in the city, and the dogs wept (Bava Kamma 60b). Had the dogs barked when millions were leaving, it would have caused a terrible panic, causing people to be trampled and crushed. Therefore as a reward to the dogs, animal carcasses (judged to be unfit for Kosher consumption) are given to dogs (Exodus 22:30). Are these the same dogs that helped us in Egypt? Of course not. Does a dog have free will? The answer is: nevertheless, in expressing gratitude we Jews always go to the extreme, because gratitude is the foundation of everything!

Another example: prior to the Exodus, the plague of blood in the Nile was not unleashed by Moses, since the water had saved him as an infant. Does water have free will? Nevertheless, Moshe shows gratitude to the water! Likewise, with the plague of boils, it was Aaron who threw the furnace soot into the air, causing the plague. Moses did not, since he had a debt of gratitude to the earth, because the sand had saved him when he "buried the Egyptian in the sand" (Exodus 2:12).

According to the Torah, gratitude was required to be shown to Egypt, to dogs, to water and to soil! That is how far we go in teaching the importance of showing gratitude. Shall we then show no gratitude to Jonathan Pollard? Impossible! All of Israel owes a debt of gratitude to Jonathan Pollard. The entire Jewish People ought to enlist to save him. That is how a righteous people acts, and all the more so a country. "One for all and all for one." These words by Alexander Dumas ought to ring true for us as well.

Unfortunately, we live in a world of falsehood; we do not see the truth. We don't see who has a good heart. How do we fight in a world of falsehood? With the help of the truth! Truth contradicts and eradicates falsehood! The world is full of lies. Lies about Jonathan, lies as though Eretz Yisrael is not ours, lies about the Torah. You can't fight falsehood with physical weapons, but only by stating the truth again and again. Falsehood, the Evil Impulse, wickedness, disgracefulness - all fear the truth more than anything. We must constantly pursue the truth. With the help of a single truth, mountains of falsehood can be toppled.

The truth of Torah, kindness, and humanity repels evil and falsehood. We are therefore called upon to cry out the truth all the time. It is all one war: the battle for truth and the battle for Jonathan. Truth was given to Yaacov (Michah 7:20), and truth is G-d's seal.

Whoever does kind deeds without ulterior motives is emulating the traits of G-d. The Master-of-the-Universe has many traits, but first and foremost, the root and foundation of all else, is kindness: "The universe is built from kindness" (Psalm 89:3). G-d performs kind deeds every day, constantly, every hour and every moment. This is a supreme spirit that stirs in man from On High. Rabbi Avraham HaKohen Kook wrote, "The longing to be good to all stems from a heavenly source" (Orot HaKodesh 3:316). This refers to being good not for an ulterior motive, but because goodness itself is good. This is the supreme trait of G-d and it precedes all else, all science and all philosophy, all Torah and all holiness. It comes before all else - Kindness!

This is the trait that characterizes Jonathan, who took upon himself such an enormous mission. There is an American saying that sometimes events are greater than the men who shape them. Divine Providence chose Jonathan to perform this great kindness and to bring great salvation to the Jewish People.

We must proclaim the truth all the time! It will banish the darkness, the materialism, the selfishness, the lust, the man preoccupied with nothing but himself. A person concerned with others, is a happy person.

We have assembled here in the rain for this great mitzvah of freeing Jonathan. Everyone here is an emissary of truth, and he should proclaim it everywhere. Others will hear, and they too will repeat it. By such means truth will spread throughout the entire Nation.

We look forward to the day when Jonathan will go free and will stand here, expounding words of Torah. We will hear them, and we will be able to crowd around together in the shadow of a man of whom we will be able to say: "He has no self-interest, but only the interest of others at heart." We will continue to follow in his path, working for his cause and praying for complete salvation and his swift return to our midst. Speedily in our day! Amen!

HaRav Shlomo Aviner is the Rosh Yeshiva of Ateret Cohanim and the Rav of Beit El.

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