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Sacrifice for Ukraine #718

03/18/2022 04:44:00 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashah Tzav

Sacrifice for Ukraine

Like many of you, I have been watching events unfold in Ukraine, filled with admiration for the passion and sacrifice of the Ukrainian people.

Every day, I watch Ukrainian citizens truly stand up for freedom — reporting to militia or army offices and acquiring weapons, which in some countries, would be considered antiques.

It is a latter-day tale of David versus Goliath.

It is also particularly heartbreaking to watch as the innocents are targeted: the elderly, infants, children, the physically and cognitively challenged.

At the same time, it is inspiring to witness the courage of Ukrainian citizens, as they stand elbow to elbow, defending their homes, their families, their country and — most of all — their freedom.

Would we do the same?

This past week, as I have been recovering from an illness that required bed rest, I’ve had time to reflect upon what we in this country categorize as truly urgent or life-threatening.

Those who differ in opinions on mask mandates refer to each other as Nazis. The usage of the term has become so pervasive that Vladimir Putin has used it as a battle cry against Ukraine. It is an obscenity.

During the past few years, many Americans have linked issues such as health care or gun ownership, to an assault on freedom itself. How ridiculous so many of these conversations have been.

Indeed, how many of us have the right to complain, as we compare our lives to the horror being experienced every day by the Ukrainian people?

How can we complain about taxes or the price of gas, when millions have been displaced from homes, packing an entire lifetime into one or two suitcases or shopping bags?

During the past month, we as Jews have been reminded of the forced immigration and persecution of our ancestors. We have been exposed to — and unsettled by — images and stories of untold pain and suffering.

And we have been inspired by the courage of the Ukrainian people — and their Jewish-born president Volodymyr Zelenskyy. 

It places our own lives into perspective.

Within the yearly cycle of our Torah reading, we are currently passing through the Book of Leviticus. In Hebrew, the book begins with the words, “and God called out.”

These Torah readings are generally viewed as dry, containing many of the rites and rituals instituted in the desert as the first Jewish temple was built. 

Everyone had a role to play — from the leaders who administered these rituals, to ordinary Israelites who brought sacrifices of thanks, guilt, forgiveness and praise.

We no longer bring animals or grain offerings to temple, but we do, in many ways, offer sacrifices. We volunteer time, we donate, we help feed and clothe those in need, we train the next generation to help bring peace and justice to the world.

God calls out to us every day.

During one of our Israel tours, I found myself speaking with a young Druze soldier on the border with Lebanon.

I observed, “You give up so much to defend Israel.” To which he replied, “I am on the front lines because if they get through me, then next they will be in Tel Aviv, and eventually they will come after you.”

During this week, as we continue to consider the idea of sacrifice, let us reflect upon how profound our country’s problems truly are.

Let us also consider how those challenges in our lives and within our country pale in comparison with the courage of the Ukrainian people and the sacrifices of the countries, such as Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, as they practice an immigration policy of “Humanity First.”

While we cannot travel to the area to assist, we can donate to organizations such as HIAS and Israaid. Our congregation has already donated privately and communally more than $10,000 to various front-line organizations.

We are also considering the possibility — when the United States opens its gates — of sponsoring a family to live among us and be supported.

Until then, let us stand with the people of Ukraine and let them know they are not alone. For if they fall, so do we.

They are sacrificing in ways we pray we will never need to.

Would we do the same if our freedoms were ever threatened? Will we take in or support a stranger when the time comes?

These are issues the Torah inspires us to consider, as it navigates the topic of sacrifice.

Inspired by the fight of Ukraine to defend what freedom truly is, we must take stock of our lives, place them in perspective, and find ways to support the people of Ukraine.

Our answer to them must be, “Yes.”

For whether we realize it or not, as we consider our lives, and the courage of the Ukrainian people, God is calling out to each of us every day.

The question remains, how will we reply?

Shabbat shalom, v’kol tuv.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman


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