Why The Chabad Rabbi to Ukraine Isn’t Running:
A lesson from the Parsha
Why The Chabad Rabbi to Ukraine Isn’t Running:
Will Russia invade Ukraine or not? This question has kept the news very occupied for the past few weeks. The United States, Israel, and many other countries have told their citizens to evacuate Ukraine immediately and return to their home countries.
Israel, for example, sent special planes to evacuate their citizens, and indeed many Israelis did.
However, the Chabad Rabbis in Ukraine remain put. They are not leaving; for them, evacuation is not an option. Why?
The Chabad Rabbi of Odessa was interviewed by the media in the United States, and they asked him if he was thinking of leaving the country. In response, he pointed to the orphanage he established in Odessa which houses 83 children, from the age of one week to the age of 18. “What will happen to them if I leave?” He pointed to the nursing home for more than 40 elderly Holocaust survivors, most of whom cannot travel. “What will happen to them if I leave?”
In the summer of 2001, an elderly woman entered the “Malbish Arumim” synagogue holding two grandchildren, an eight-year-old grandson and a six-year-old granddaughter. With tears in her eyes, she said, “Rabbi, I’m leaving my grandchildren with you; I cannot raise them, so I entrust the children in your hands.” She told them through her tears that her daughter had been murdered by drunks one night in the doorway of her home, and she did not have the financial means to raise her grandchildren. That very day, they decided to set up an orphanage. It started with two children, but very quickly, many more came.
One of the most difficult cases in the orphanage is a Jewish girl named Nadia. She gave birth to a child at age 17, while the baby’s father was in prison. She had no place to live, so they put her up in the orphanage along with her nine-month-old daughter.
They tried to persuade her to study a profession so that she would be able to support herself in the future, but she refused… After two months, she informed them that she would be leaving. They tried to convince her to leave the baby at the orphanage until she found a place to live, but she took her daughter and disappeared.
Ten months later, they received a call from the local maternity ward. They had a woman named Nadia, a mother of a little girl, who was about to give birth to another baby. The government was going to take the children to a government-run orphanage, and they wanted to know if the Jewish orphanage would be interested in them.
The day after the telephone call, Nadia gave birth to a baby boy. They came and collected the mother, the girl, and the newborn baby, held a bris for him, and, at the mother’s request, named him Avraham.
A few months later, Nadia informed them that she needed to arrange her children’s documents in her hometown, where she had her registered address. She left the two children in the orphanage and disappeared. They did not hear from her for half a year until she suddenly showed up for a short visit — and then disappeared again. A year later, they get a phone call from the same maternity ward — to come and pick up a third baby!
This is the responsibility the Rabbi and his wife carry. What exactly are they to do? Leave eighty children and flee?!
This week’s Torah portion deals mainly with the Sin of the Golden Calf. Right after the giving of the Torah, Moshe ascends Mount Sinai for forty days to receive the two tablets. Then, on the last day, as he receives the tablets from G-d. G-d saw the golden calf and told Moshe that He was ready t get rid of the Jewish people.
Moshe does not agree whatsoever. He turns to G-d and begged; “What will Egypt say?” What will the world say if this is what happens to Your own people?”
In the end, Moshe courageously gives G-d an ultimatum: “If you bear their sin good, but if not, erase me from Your book.” In other words, “If You destroy the Jews, don’t count on me to build You a big nation…”
Where did Moshe get the strength and the courage to give such an ultimatum to G-d?
The answer lies in the first words that G-d says to him when He say the Golden Calf: “Go down, because your people have become corrupt.”
Why does it say, “your people”? Are they not G-d’s people?
“When G-d told Moshe after the Sin of the Golden Calf, ‘Go down because your people have become corrupt,’ Moshe was in heaven, on a very high spiritual level… while the people of Israel were on a low level on earth. Therefore, G-d told him, “Your people have messed up” — thereby connecting Moses to them and giving him the ability to defend them.”
By calling them “your people,” G-d empowered Moses, “These are your people; take responsibility for them.”
Until this moment, it was G-d’s nation, and Moses worked as G-d’s agent. Here, for the first time, G-d says, “Moshe, you are up here, in heaven, but your people, your nation, have fallen down. It is your responsibility to save them.”
These words gave Moses the strength to fight for them with utter self-sacrifice — because they were his. Moshe did not have the luxury of staying on Mount Sinai and ignoring everything that was happening down there; these were his people, and he was going to take responsibility for them.
This is a call to every Jew: G-d turns to each of us and says, “Go down, because it’s your people.”
G-d calls to us from this week’s Torah portion: “Do not criticize and do not run away. Take ownership, ‘go down,’ climb down from your ivory tower, roll up your sleeves and take responsibility — because it is ‘your people.’”
You have complaints? Be my guest! Join the ranks and do better!