The Ukraine Crisis - A Jewish Response

The entire world has been shocked and horrified by the brutal act of violence of Vladimir Putin and the Russian military as they have waged war against neighboring Ukraine over the previous days. Many people I have spoken to, much older than me, have said, they never thought this would happen in our generation.

This eerily reminds me of Nazi Germany starting its conquest of Europe, as the rest of the nations sat back, hoping they wouldn’t be drawn into the conflict. Putin, once considered a civilized leader, has revealed his true colors as a brutal tyrant hungry for power and domination. 

War anywhere in the world is tragic, but this particular conflict is specifically troubling, on many levels. 
 

1) Many remember the constant threat from the Soviet Union over the entire western world. Their desire to spread their communist ideology on everyone that they could conquer and the total breakdown in value for human life and religious freedom. This current war brings back echoes of what many hoped was long gone.

2) The combination of reckless and bizarre leadership with the largest nuclear arsenal in the world should not be taken lightly. We learned all too clearly from World War II that threats of mass annihilation cannot not be ignored or swept under the rug, and unfortunately Putin’s war mongering statements are equally as atrocious. 

3) The entire precedent that Putin is setting on the world stage undoes years of planning and negotiations of the free world. He has gone right back to “might makes right” ordering his stronger army in an unprovoked attack to expand his empire. This mentality leads to anarchy and the breakdown of stable nationhood as we know it. 

4) There is a particular Jewish angle here, not only on behalf of the Jewish community of Ukraine that is deeply affected by the conflict, but the president of the country, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, born a Jew, and someone that much of his family perished in the Holocaust. It’s almost hard to imagine that a country which was known for its viscous pogroms and open anti-semitism has now voted in their second Jewish prime minister after Groysman, who is now the arch enemy of Putin. 

What does all of this mean? How as a community are we supposed to respond to these saddening and perplexing events. 


This reminds of a Passuk in Megilas Esther (3:15) 

Vhamelech VHaman Yashvu Lishtos V’Hair Shushan Nevocha 
The King and Haman sat down to drink but the city of Shushan was bewildered.

Nothing seems to make sense. No logical reason can explain why Putin has risked the economy and reputation of his nation for the sake of the conquest of Ukraine. But the more that things seem strange, the more a Jew reads between the lines and sees the deeper meaning behind the scenes. 

I am not a prophet and cannot claim to reveal exactly what is going on, but let me offer you some practical insight that can help guide us through these times. 

We are going into Rosh Chodesh Adar II this Thursday/Friday, as we enter a time of Divine Light through the holiday of Purim. In the Purim story, we had a madman, who in a completely illogical way, threatened the annihilation of the Jewish people, which ultimately brought his own downfall. And Mordechai and Esther recognized this threat as a wake up call for the entire nation.

This was a Divine message that something urgently needed to be done, and the Jewish spiritual and physical response overturned the decree, not by ignoring it, but by taking it to heart and transforming themselves, and becoming greater in the process. 

We cannot ignore what is going on the world stage. This is not a conflict that is going on the other side of the world. This is a conflict that within minutes could reach our doorstep and the time to wake up and act is now. 

A) Our sages teach us (Talmud Brechos 64a) 

Talmidei Chachamim Marbim Shalom B’Olam
Torah scholars increase peace in the world.


The Maharsha explains that there is a certain amount of war that is designated to come down to the world. That power of war can be channeled into Torah learning in the epic quest for truth and fighting for clarity, or God forbid, it can spill over to violent conflict around the world. 

A friend of mine, Eric, shared a story a few years ago about his brother who was fighting for the IDF and preparing to invade Gaza to disarm Hamas. He had to leave his phone behind and the whole family was concerned for his safety. My friend decided one night that despite being tired, he was going to open a Sefer and learn Hilchos Shabbos in the merit of the safety of his brother deployed in Gaza. 

He learned for 30 minutes, closed the book and went to sleep. A few days later, his brother returned home safely and contacted his family to tell them that he was alive. He recounted the harrowing experience about the terrorist ambush on his unit and his miraculous survival. 

Eric asked him what time that happened and he calculated that it was the exact day and time, down to the minute that he had learned on his behalf at that exact moment. 

Let us increase our learning in the merit of all those in harm's way. 


B) The thought of the threats of nuclear war is nothing short of frightening. Having a power hungry leader already threatening a nuclear response for anybody interfering in this conflict is nothing short of the threats Haman, many times over. One nuclear weapon is deadly enough, let alone the entire Russian stockpile.

But a Jew believes that we have a power that is infinitely more powerful than all the weapons of mass destruction in the world. That is the power of prayer. 

The famous Pasuk in Genesis (27:22)
Hakol Kol Yaakov V’Hadayim Yidei Eisav
The voice is the voice of Yaakov and the hands are the hands of Eisav.

Our sages see a hint in these words to the ultimate power of the Jewish people in the strength of our prayer, while the Eisav’s of the world rely on physical might and strength, the Jews real strength is in his voice, but only when used properly. In fact, the Ramban learns that the only Biblical commandment to pray comes at a deep time of trouble and need. 

Tehillim 145
Karov Hashem L’Kol Korav, L’Kol Asher Yikrauhu V’Emes
Hashem is close to all who call out, to all of those who call out to Him in Truth.

So often we mutter and fumble through our prayers, saying them flippantly and lacking depth and sincerity. Whenever there is challenge or strife around the world, the Jewish community has to get REAL with their power of Tefillah.

Take a few minutes, feel the pain of those caught in this terrible conflict, and channel that into a genuine prayer to the True Power of the world. 
 

3) There is a very real financial need of the victims of this conflict, including thousands of Jews trapped in harm's way.

 

King Solomon taught us in Proverbs (10:2)
Tzedaka Tatzil M’Maves
Charity Saves From Death

This is now true in the most literal sense of those in need. In the merit of this charity, the victims of war should be provided their most basic, life saving needs and those around the world should merit to see worldwide peace and salvation. 

Haman’s greatest accusation against the Jews in Megillas Esther (3:8)
Yeshno Am Echad Mefuzar U’Mefurad Bein H’Amim
There is one nation that is scattered and divided amongst the nations.

Every falsehood has a bit of truth in it. Yes, the Jewish people are scattered amongst the nations of the world… but it is up to us whether we are indeed divided or united, despite our differences. When the Jews show unity and care for each other despite being physically and culturally separated, we have the power to annul these harsh decrees that have descended on the world. 

Here are three ways to donate to those in need.

The Ukraine Jewish Relief Fund run by Chabad-Lubavitch

Ukrainian relief fund set up by the Orthodox Union

Ukraine Relief Fun run by Agudath Israel

 

4) This is no time to be silent. As our sages teach us, (Talmud Yevamos 87B)
Shtika K’Hodah Damye
Silence is like agreement

In the famous Gemara in Gittin (55B) we are told of the story of Kamsa and Bar Kamsa that brought the spiritual destruction of the Beis Hamikdash. One Jew threw another Jew out of a party because of dissent and strife. But that is not what sealed the deal. 

The Talmud says that the sages watched and were silent as this embarrassment unfolded. Their failure to stand up and protest in the face of injustice made them tacit collaborators in the crime. 

So I urge everybody not to remain silent as this evil tyrant goes on a path of destruction and rampage. Take your support for the victims of war to social media. Write your senators, congressmen and the president voicing your opinion that the US needs to take a strong stance against war and terror. 

“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile—hoping it will eat him last.” Sir Winston Churchill, December 1954


Let us all take the current conflict to heart and wake ourselves up from our slumber. In the merit of our spiritual and physical response to this crisis, we should only see peace around the world and the end of this conflict should pave the way for the final redemption of the Jewish people with the coming of the Messiah speedily in our days.