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ב"ה

Why they chose to stay

Friday, 25 February, 2022 - 2:38 pm

For weeks foreigners in Ukraine were warned to leave but on Thursday morning, as the invasion began, I paid more attention than usual to the news because I have close family there in several cities currently under attack. All of them are foreigners and yet they chose to stay despite all the warnings. Why?

The short answer is that they are the Chabad emissaries entrusted with the responsibility of leading their communities - and in the spirit of maritime law that the captain aborts the ship last - staying until there are no Jews left to look out for. But to leave it at that would ignore an important nuance. They all moved there voluntarily in the 1990s to inspire a Jewish renaissance with the dissolution of the USSR when communist persecution ended. While educating fellow Jews is a vital mission, does it justify remaining even in times of trouble? Why were they not recalled similar to how sovereign nations recall their diplomats from war zones?

This Shabbat marks 30 years since the Rebbe held a public Shabbat gathering at Chabad World Headquarters. On the following Monday the Rebbe suffered a stroke while praying at the Ohel (gravesite of the Previous Rebbe) and the talk the Rebbe spoke two days earlier explains why his representatives in Ukraine chose to stay.

This week and next we study the Torah portions of Vayakhel and Pekudei which both describe the actual construction of the Mishkan - the divine tabernacle the Jews were instructed to build the desert. While the two portions have a common topic, their names are vastly dissimilar. “Vayakhel” means “and he gathered” emphasizing the idea of community and “Pekudei” means “counting” which emphasizes the role of the individual. 

The Rebbe asked a simple question: perhaps the order of the portions should have been reversed. Surely one needs to perfect the individuals before bringing them together as a community? 

The Torah chose to present these names in this order to teach us that the state of the individuals should not interfere with uniting them as a community and that’s exactly what the Rebbe expects of his representatives.

Chabad rabbis and rebbetzins are in every corner of the globe not just to educate individuals; their mission is to create communities composed of young and old, rich and poor, mobile and immobile alike. With their arrival to cities in Ukraine decades ago devoid of any Jewish communal infrastructure, these men and women immediately created communities and are staying with them now until every single individual is out of harm’s way.

I take inspiration from my colleagues in Ukraine to increase my efforts in ensuring that more individuals feel part of the community and I hope you will join me in these efforts.

War is frightening and we hope and pray that it ends swiftly, with the least amount of devastation. Our brethren in Ukraine need our support more than ever before and I thank everyone who has already participated in the emergency appeal to help my family in Odessa do what they need to do to keep their community safe. If you have not had the chance to donate, please consider doing so here.

May we merit very soon to experience the realization of Isaiah's prophecy “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war anymore.”

 

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