By Laura Seymour
This summer we study mitzvot through “mitzvah heroes.” Each week we remember — “We are standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before us!”
Herut is the mitzvah of seeking freedom, which began with the Israelite’s escape from slavery in Egypt more than 3,000 years ago. Since that time, we have been told to remember and tell the story.
Judaism understands that freedom does not mean the chance to do whatever you want — it means the chance to live and work for a better world.
A special mitzvah that goes along with Herut is Pidyon Sh’vuyim or freeing of captives. It is our responsibility to help Jews who are held captive whether from the Soviet Union, Ethiopia or other places of oppression.
Mitzvah Hero of Today’s World — Natan Sharansky
Anatoly Sharansky was born in Russia where Jews could not practice Judaism, nor could they leave the country. Sharansky became active in the movement to gain freedom for Jews and for all those suffering under the Communist regime.
Due to his work, he was denied an exit visa, harassed by the KGB and imprisoned. He became the best known Jewish dissident.
Sharansky’s wife, who changed her name to Avital when she arrived in Israel, worked for his release. In November 1985, President Reagan convinced Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev to let Sharansky go to Israel.
When Sharansky arrived in Israel, he kissed the Western Wall and said, “Baruch matir asurim. Blessed is the One who liberates the imprisoned.” He changed his name to Natan — a gift from God.
In Our Ancestor’s Footsteps — Alfred Dreyfus
Alfred Dreyfus (1859-1935) was a Jewish army officer in France who was accused of passing military secrets to the Germans in 1894. In spite of all kinds of errors in his trial, he was found guilty and sent to Devil’s Island Prison. Finally, in 1904, a new court reexamined the case and declared that the evidence was unsubstantiated and that Dreyfus was innocent.
Theodor Herzl was a journalist covering the case. He was so upset by the anti-Semitism that had caused this that the “Dreyfus Affair” prompted Herzl, the Father of Zionism, to begin his quest for a Jewish state.
Finish these Statements:
Natan Sharansky fulfilled the mitzvah of Herut by:
Alfred Dreyfus fulfilled the mitzvah of Herut by:
I can fulfill this mitzvah by:
Family Talk Time
- We all know the story of the Israelites in Egypt who were slaves until Moses came along. The people came to Mt. Sinai and received the Torah — a book filled with rules. Did that mean we were no longer free? How can you be free if you have to follow rules?
- Find out about one of your camp friends who is from Russia. Why did their family come to Dallas. What does freedom mean to them?
- The mitzvah called “Pidyon Sh’vuyim — freeing of captives” is about a responsibility we have to help others gain their freedom. What are some ways we can do this mitzvah today?
Laura Seymour is director of camping services and director of Jewish life and learning at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.