Parsha Pekudei: Ukraine
We all woke up to a different world this week. Thanks to the siege on Ukraine, the world as we know it is no longer the same. And this is not all bad. We got a bit complacent. A bit petty. So much time, energy and indignation spent on masks, pronouns and other silliness. Now we see there are bigger things at stake. We are once again in a battle of Good versus Evil. Truth versus Lies. Freedom versus Oppression.
It has been a while since we have seen a leader like the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. We are not used to seeing politicians standing up for anything other than their bid to get reelected. Appeasing their voter base, flip-flopping their way and changing scripts to suit whatever opinion is fashionable at the time and will gain the most ballots.
When is the last time we have seen a president or prime minister who is actually a hero? Who is willing to go down with his ship? Who stays behind with his people, knowing full well that his and his young family’s lives are at risk and in mortal danger. Who answers an American offer of safe passage out of Ukraine with, “The fight is here. I need ammunition, not a ride.” Downright Churchillian. If that doesn’t send a shiver down your spine, then you’re not alive.
Unfortunately some people are so locked in their pettiness and live with blinders on that they don’t see the magnitude of the moment. After services at Aish when I announced that we will say an extra paragraph of Psalms for the dire situation in Ukraine, someone, referring to the fact that Jews didn’t always fare so well there historically, said that Ukrainians are “reshaim” – evil people. Forgetting for a moment the foolishness of such a blanket generalization of a whole nation, I emphatically stated that this is about something more than just Ukraine. This is an assault on the free world as we know it. If Putin is successful routing Ukraine, then what is to stop him from continuing on to Nato-aligned nations that were once part of the USSR? And after that, what next? Inspiration for China to do the same no doubt.
Leaders like Putin need to be stopped in their tracks and many have noted how the West didn’t react with enough force and concern when he took over Crimea in 2014. At this point in the trajectory of world history we should be well-aware of the thinking and methodology of bad actors. There’s no appeasing them. Too many have tried to travel the Neville Chamberlin road of avoiding antagonizing evil leaders. But anyone with a bit of knowledge of history, or of how bad people think and work, know that evil people are never happy with whatever you give them. They do not see offers to avoid conflict as good-will gestures but of weakness. For them it’s a green light to continue and take more.
One of the more heartening aspects of this tragedy is seeing the world stand up and defend Ukraine and isolate Russia. In a matter of just over one week, Russia has been relegated to pariah-state status, sharing the bottom of the barrel with the likes of North Korea, Syria and Venezuela. If only such a reaction would have happened when Hitler began his evil pursuits of world domination when he took (actually, was given) the Sudentanland.
This week, General Mark A. Milley, the top military adviser to President Biden, said, “In standing up to an invading country that dwarfs their own and demonstrating their willingness to die to protect it, fighting Ukrainian people have become the eyes and ears of the world.”
We Jewish people know all about standing up to enemies that dwarf us in numbers and power. We have been doing it for centuries and continue to do so. Think Chanukah, ’67 Six-Day War or present day Iran.
A number of people have compared Zelensky to Mordechai. As you may recall, the events surrounding the drama of Purim started when Mordechai refused to bow to Haman much the way Zelensky has refused to bow to Putin. Mordechai was not very popular at the outset for stirring up a hornet’s nest and attracting the wrath of Haman to wipe out the Jews of Persia. And in a similar way Zelensky at first was questioned, as in the op-ed piece in The New York Times that claimed he was in way over his head. There was significant hesitancy to back him when Russia started its war rumblings.
But thanks to Mordechai’s bravery, the bravery of Esther whom he convinced to speak up to King Achashverosh for the Jews, and rallying the troops that Esther demanded in her request to have everyone fast on her behalf, the tide was turned. And so too, thanks to Zelensky’s bravery, he has galvanized not only his own nation, but pretty much the entire world to support him in his fight against the wicked, murderous Putin. Is it any accident that the leader of Ukraine is Jewish? Maybe not.
It is recorded in the Megillah (9:1) in the telling of how the fate of the Jews changed so dramatically: בַּיּ֗וֹם אֲשֶׁ֨ר שִׂבְּר֜וּ אֹיְבֵ֤י הַיְּהוּדִים֙ לִשְׁל֣וֹט בָּהֶ֔ם וְנַהֲפ֣וֹךְ ה֔וּא אֲשֶׁ֨ר יִשְׁלְט֧וּ הַיְּהוּדִ֛ים הֵ֖מָּה בְּשֹׂנְאֵיהֶֽם – On the day that the Jewish people’s enemies anticipated ruling over them, it was reversed and the Jews ruled over their enemies.
We all wish that just as Mordechai and Esther were able to turn the tables on Haman’s designs, President Zelensky should have similar success and that Putin should suffer the same fate as Haman who was publically ridiculed, shamed and lost his life. And when that happens, just as we celebrate on Purim the downfall of horrible people who wish to destroy our world, we will celebrate the downfall of Putin.
But until then, we pray, we hope and we offer whatever assistance we are able to the brave people of Ukraine who are on the front lines of Freedom.
Well it’s too late tonight
To drag the past out into the light
But we’re not the same
We get to carry each other
Carry each other