Redeeming Captives

פתח תפתח את ידך לאחיך לעניך ולאבינך בארצך

“Open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor, and to your needy in you land.”

-Deuteronomy 15:11

Redeeming Captives

photo by T’ruah

The commandment of Pidyon Shvuyim, the Redeeming of Captives, is rooted in the collective principle that all Jews are responsible for one another. But while Jews are responsible for each other, Chocolate Moses believes that the Jewish responsibility to help others extends to everyone in need. So to express the fullness of our humanity, we are responsible for the fulfillment of a broader definition of the redeeming of captives. We seek the liberation of all enslaved people held against their will.
When we look at this commandment with an attitude of universal liberation, Pidyon Shvuyim assumes new vitality, real urgency, and it demands that we prioritize our response to modern slavery. The Talmud called redeeming captives a “great”[1] stating that captivity is worse than death. For the 12th century sage Maimonides, redeeming a slave from a life that is beyond his control is among the most important of the mitzvoth. He said it is more urgent than feeding or clothing the poor. Why? Because a slave is also hungry, thirsty and he might be naked. To Maimonides, to ignore our responsibility to redeem slaves is a violation of biblical prohibitions forbidding us from hardening our hearts, from standing idly by the blood of our neighbor,[2] and from ruling over laborers ruthlessly.[3] When we ignore the enslaved, we also violate the commandments to open our hands to the poor,[4] to let our brothers live by our side,[5] and to love our neighbor as ourselves.[6]


[1] Bayblonian Talmud, Bava Batra 8b

[2] Leviticus 19:16

[3] Leviticus 25:43, 46, 53

[4] Deuteronomy 15:7, 11

[5] Leviticus 25:36

[6] Leviticus 19:18