Zelenskyy, Putin and Purim

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Since Russian military forces invaded Ukraine on February
24, 2022, people all around the world have been inundated with news of the
latest developments in this terrible war. Each side is doing its utmost to
frame its position in the conflict in righteousness while characterizing the
other position in wickedness, duplicity and aggression. Truth is difficult if
not impossible to find and propaganda rules the airwaves. If you want reasons
why you should support President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the Ukrainians, you
won’t have far to go for almost all of the legacy or mainstream media has
thrown its support on that side. However, if you want to probe the question a
little more deeply and examine reasons why you might want to support President
Vladimir Putin and the Russians, you may find that a little harder, but if you
read some of the alternative news sources that haven’t been censored (yet),
you can find reasons why the Russians may seem to be acting in the right.

War is messy. It is not clean and it is not clear cut.
General William Tecumseh Sherman, who served in the Union Army during the War
Between the States/American Civil War, said, “War is at best barbarism…Its
glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor
heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more
vengeance, more desolation. War is hell.”

All sides of a war conduct atrocities and commit heinous crimes
and acts of brutality. We just like to think that “our side” never does such
things. It is only the “other side” that acts barbarically and cruelly. But
stop and think for a moment. Why did most Americans or Canadians or Brits support
the Allies during World War II? And why did most Germans or Japanese support
the Axis? Was it because everyone was thinking and acting rationally and
logically, arriving at their conclusions through sound mental and emotional
maturity? The odds of that happening on such a massive scale are frighteningly
miniscule. Or may we be closer to the truth to suggest that most people supported
their nation because they were part of that nation. Usually, it’s not much more
complicated than that. This is the same reason why most Christians come from
Christian families and why most Hindus come from Hindu families and so on. Objectivity
has little to do with it. To step off the main road and start thinking for
yourself…well, as you can imagine or as you know, that can cause lots of

So who is really on the side of righteousness in this
latest round of the more encompassing Russo-Ukrainian War that has been raging
(mostly off the radar of most people) since 2014. To answer that question, let
us consider Purim. Yes, really.

As we know, there are a lot of very beautiful mitzvot for
Purim, giving food portions to our friends, giving charity to the needy and
reading Megillat Esther. However, perhaps even greater than these, Purim is framed
within a central idea, to reach the level where we can no longer distinguish
between Cursed be Haman and Blessed be Mordechai. What a strange
halachah. And the odd fact that both of these expressions have the same
gematria of 502 seems to be either a strange anomaly or an irrelevant tidbit.
What’s the point? What’s really going on here?

In the Western world at least, most of us grew up with
apparently clear ideas of right and wrong. Most all of Western culture is
permeated with a clearly dichotomous worldview. Think about it. We were taught
that the cowboys were the good guys and the Indians were the bad guys, that the
cops are the good guys and the robbers are the bad guys, that the Allies were
the good guys and the Axis were the bad guys. But then, we grew up somewhere
along the line and, if we were fortunate, began to look more objectively at history
and began to realize that this nice neat packaging of the world is
exceptionally artificial, limiting, and just plain incorrect.

Let us take this idea a little farther. What if you actually
lived through the events recorded in Megillat Esther, and it wasn’t just a
historical story for you, but rather a personal episode in your own life and in
your family’s life? Is it so hard to imagine? After all, it wasn’t that long
ago that the Jewish people did, in fact, live through a very similar space-time
period, i.e. Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. So now ask yourself a question: What
if the halachah said that we need to reach the level where we can no longer
distinguish between Cursed be Hitler and Blessed be Mordechai?
Would you think that such a halachah would be so fun to strive toward? Would
you even want to reach that level? Do you think Haman was better than Hitler yimach

We have now arrived at the point of understanding the
halachah and the question we asked about the Russo-Ukrainian War. What have we been
doing all of our days since childhood? We have been picking sides, assigning
one side to good and righteousness and the other to bad and wickedness. It’s
neat and clean that way. It may make life easier to live, but only if you want
to keep your head in the sand.

Hashem told Adam not to eat from the tree of the knowledge
of good and bad, but he didn’t listen and he ate. And we have been eating ever
since. What is this tree? It is the tree of choosing sides. It is the tree of
seeing a polarized world, a world where there are good guys and bad guys. Haman
is clearly the bad guy, and Mordechai is clearly the good guy, right? But if
that’s the case, then what’s the point of reaching the level where we can no
longer tell the difference? What is this level? This is the level of realizing
that there is no difference, not really. When we eat from the tree of
the knowledge of good and bad, we see Mordechai as blessed and Haman as cursed.
We see good guys and bad guys. But there is another tree. And eating from this
tree allows us to see the unity of everything, i.e. that everything is from
Hashem, even things that we currently cannot even imagine could possibly be
from Hashem.

That’s reaching the level of not knowing Cursed be Haman
from Blessed be Mordechai. To be able to say, Blessed be Haman
with as much enthusiasm as we say Blessed be Mordechai! That’s reaching
a very high level, and that’s why Purim is such an exalted holiday—because
through joy and song and dance and giving, we can achieve so much easier what
it takes a lot of work to achieve on even Yom haKippurim (The Day that is like

This then is the answer to our question about Zelenskyy and
Putin. Who is right? Who is wrong? These are not practically useful questions.
When we ask these questions, we demonstrate that we are still eating from the
tree of the knowledge of good and bad, always trying to find the good guys and
the bad guys so we may side with the one against the other. After all, if one
side is bad then the other side must be good, right?

But could it be that both sides may have committed
atrocities? Probably. War is messy, brutal and barbaric. So should we conclude
that both sides are cursed? No, that’s not the point either. The point is to
see both sides emanating from Hashem, i.e. that He makes peace and creates evil.
It’s all for our good, every last second of history and current events. It’s
all for our good. If we can achieve this level, then we will merit being able
to bless Hashem for the good as well as for the bad, because then and only then
will we have reached the level of eating only from the tree of life and no
longer from the tree of the knowledge of good and bad.

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