What can one say? Where’s the limit to the brutality, cruelty and lies? In the chilling words of Yuval Noah Harari, it’s those who did Homs and Aleppo who are now aiming at Mariupol, Kyiv and Kharkiv. (See video here). We stand with Ukraine in the face of the crimes committed against it before our eyes. Today Ukraine is the front line of civilisation.
Tomorrow is Shabbat Zachor, on which we are commanded to remember Amalek, who attacked the weak and helpless as the Children of Israel traversed the desert on their exodus from Egypt. Amalek the nation has long ceased to exist. But as an attitude, a way of behaving, with its contempt for hospitals, children, civilians and the sovereignty of other nations, here its behaviours are before us, wanton and merciless.
The Hasidic leader Rebbe Yitzhak Meir of Ger (1799 – 1866) explains that the root of the Amalek-ism is the denial of accountability: the world is random; there is no God and nobody cares. That is false. At this very moment the world is filled with the visible proof that millions upon millions care very deeply. If conscience is ‘the God within the mind,’ then God in the form of the collective conscience of humanity is even now holding Mr Putin and the perpetrators of this war to account. Those who mastermind and carry out this atrocity are answerable for ever before the families of every one of the dead and before every refugee.
The Torah teaches that God, our very God, is at war with such evil. Therefore, all strength, courage and success to those who stand bravely on the front line against this brutal outrage.
Those of us who’re more distant must not be mere spectators. Our arms are our commitment, humanity, generosity and compassion. Our weapons are the open doors of our hearts, and, when refugees reach Britain too, our communities and homes. This must not be limited to our immediate response towards people from Ukraine only; we can, and must, oppose brutality and cruelty through solidarity with any and every kind of suffering and need.
For practical actions we can take, click here: these are our immediate responsibilities.
But if you, like me, still feel helpless and frustrated in the face of this horror, there is something more to say. It goes to the heart of Shabbat Zachor, the Sabbath on which we recall Amalek. Though the specific instruction is to remember and fight evil, behind it is the injunction to recall the Exodus from Egypt and, beyond that, the commandment to remember the seventh day and keep it holy.
For we oppose evil by refusing to be halted on our journey from slavery to freedom, from injustice to justice, from division to inclusion and from indifference to lovingkindness. Therefore, any action we can take to help any living being, to liberate any person anywhere in any way from any form of suffering, takes us onward on that journey. For we are summoned by the goal of a world in which all life is sacred and all the earth God’s holy temple. Therefore, there is never nothing we can do in pursuit of that vision. Every kind deed, every creative project, every act of healing is a step on our challenging journey. We are not at liberty to stop.