By Rabbi Levi Greenberg
Tensions on Ukraine’s eastern border have the West on edge nowadays, and the U.S. and Russia — former Cold War rivals — are facing another showdown. The situation is concerning for me in the larger sense, but also on a personal level since I have family serving Jewish communities in both Ukraine and Russia. At the same time, as a student of Judaism I know we are not disconnected from events unfolding on the other side of the world, nor are we helpless to intervene in some way.
The 18th-century founder of the Hasidic movement, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, taught that everything one sees or hears must serve as a catalyst for personal growth and the betterment of character. As a private citizen I have no suggestions for the world leaders, diplomats and military strategists charged with handling this crisis, nor do I have any predictions of what will happen. But that does not mean there’s nothing I can do about it.
Some see an ominous foreboding in the fact that 2022 is the centenary of the founding of the Soviet Union. I prefer to focus on a more recent historic anniversary, one that signals a brighter outcome.
Jan. 31 marks 30 years since 13 heads of state and foreign ministers — including US President George H.W. Bush and Russian President Boris Yeltsin — gathered for the first summit-level meeting of the United Nations Security Council. The Friday “peace summit” reaffirmed the central role of the United Nations in maintaining world peace and strengthening its capacity for preventive diplomacy, peacemaking and peacekeeping.
The next day, during a Shabbat gathering held at Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters in Brooklyn, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, spoke extensively about this historic summit.
“Here, before our very eyes, the major powers are proclaiming their desire to establish a new and humanitarian world order of justice and peace,” the Rebbe said. “This is a tangible foretaste of the idyll envisioned by the biblical prophet Isaiah: 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.”
It is noteworthy that this quote from Isaiah is engraved on the wall facing United Nations Headquarters in New York City, the location of that historic meeting.
As evidenced by current events, we are certainly not there yet, but humanity today craves peace over war. We must get to a point where war will no longer be an option, and there is something we all can do to achieve this reality.
The famed 12th-century Jewish sage Maimonides declared that one single good deed, spoken word and even thought can usher in the Messianic era of world peace envisioned by Isaiah and the other biblical prophets. If this sounds naive to you, consider that a little over a century ago it took just a few gunshots fired by a 23-year-old Serbian political activist to plunge Europe into the First World War. Just as light is more powerful than darkness, goodness is more potent than evil.
My takeaway from the current global drama is the vital importance of increasing our acts of goodness and kindness. Become an ambassador of goodness. Set aside a “giving box” in your home or office and place some money in it each day for charity. Be generous with your compliments and spread good cheer. Seek out opportunities to be helpful and gracious and inspire others to do the same.
While the relevant parties work feverishly, with G-d’s help, to de-escalate tensions in Eastern Europe, we can do our part in solving the underlying problem. You never know which single good deed, spoken word or thought will tip the scales to usher in the era of true global peace.
Levi Greenberg is associate rabbi at Chabad Lubavitch in El Paso.
Cover photo: The Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. (Photo courtesy of Pixabay)