Russia invades Ukraine
No one thought it would happen — not Europe, not the U.S., not Ukraine, not even the Russian soldiers who were sent there from Belarus. They were told that they were being sent into Ukraine for military exercises, not to fight a war. It was clear that Putin wanted something, and part of what he wanted was legitimate: Ukraine wanted to join NATO and Putin was worried that the West was encroaching on his territory. As Putin said to Ukraine: If you join NATO then they will move their most advanced weapons up to our border. There will be hypersonic missiles on our border that can reach Moscow in 4 minutes. No country would allow that. He was right about that.
In fact, NATO had no intention of accepting Ukraine, but it was a mistake not to give Putin something. Ever since the fall of the Soviet Union, the West treated Russia as a defeated enemy, as a second-rate country, even though Putin made gestures of friendship towards the West. But the mindset that Russia was an enemy of the West (galus mentality) persisted.
When I saw that Putin pulled back his 100,000 troops the first time, I thought he was just playing a game — playing chess. When he brought them back and kept asking for negotiations and got nothing, I was worried that he would attack. But I thought he would just take the Donbas region, where the Russian separatists were active, and go home — like he did with Georgia years before. A short war not lasting more than a week and without much opposition from Ukraine. (As I write this on March 27, there is a report from France that some Russian officials are saying that all they really wanted was the Donbas region, and that “has been pretty much accomplished.”)
No one thought he would invade Ukraine from three sides and try to take over the entire country by capturing Kiev, its capital. I am sure that Putin himself didn’t think at first that he would do this. We just don’t do this anymore. We are in a new era of history — the Messianic Era, the era of Swords into Plowshares.
At this point I should add that for me, this was far from a theoretical issue — it was a very personal matter. My daughter and her family lived in Kharkov, 20 miles from the Russian border. Thank G-d, they escaped in time with other shluchim from Kharkov, driving in a caravan for days to reach Dnipropetrovsk (Dnipro, for short), from there to Moldova which is outside the border of Ukraine. They spent Shabbos in Moldova, then drove all night through Romania to get a plane to New York. No one can imagine the joy and relief of seeing them all alive and well — and smiling — at the airport in New York.
Still Swords into Plowshares?
At least once a day, someone approaches me and asks me to explain what’s going on in Ukraine and, most importantly, if we are still in the era of Swords into Plowshares. So, the time has come for me to say what I know — and what I don’t know — regarding the world’s events.
The short answer is: Of course we are still in the era of Swords into Plowshares. SIP is a prophecy of Isaiah from some 3,000 years ago, that the time will come in world history — “It shall come to pass in the ‘end of days’ (the Messianic Era, as the commentaries point out)...And they shall beat their swords into plowshares...,” you know the rest. As Rambam points out, a prophecy for good will be fulfilled, no matter what. So, exactly when will this begin?
The Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach himself, who is also the prophet of our generation, said 30 years ago, on Shabbos Parshas Mishpatim, 5752 (the end of January, 1992) that with the meeting of the heads of state of the member nations of the UN Security Council and their declaration, this prophecy has begun to be fulfilled — a one time event in the history of the world. Once it starts there’s no turning back; it’s here to stay.
There is something that need to be added to the UN agreement, however. What happens if a nuclear power, like Russia or China, decides that it wants to attack another country — like Russia has just done — and all the other nations are afraid to try to stop them because it might lead to a world war? Right now, there is no remedy for this. It’s is a gap that need to be filled.
Of course, the ultimate solution to this problem is, as the Radak says in his commentary on Isaiah’s prophecy, “The judge (referred to in the prophecy) is the King Moshiach...who will be the master of all the nations...And because of this, there will not be any war between one nation and another, because he will make peace between them.”
The Rebbe MHM has said that “All aspects of the Geula have already started to be fulfilled — and have been accepted in the world” (sicha of Shoftim, 5751) Having answered the big question, let’s sit back, relax, light up our pipes and start analyzing the events. So what exactly is happening right now with Russia and Ukraine? What’s going on with Putin? And, by the way, exactly who is this Putin anyway and what does he want?
Let’s start from the top — with the world. We know from the Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach’s sichos that we are in the Era of Moshiach. The world is moving forward in this era. So, for example, let’s look at the world as a train, a fast-moving express train on the track of Geula moving towards its final destination. Let’s say it’s moving eastward. There is a group of bad actors sitting in one of the cars of this train who say something like, “You know, we are not ready for this Geula yet. We don’t want it.” So, they all get up together (on this train) turn around and start walking backwards, westward. Where is this going to get them? Are they not on the same train with everyone else, moving at full speed on the Geula track toward its destination, the complete Geula?
We may not know why these guys are walking backward. But we do know that they are on the same train with the rest of us moving towards the Geula, just as fast.
To be sure, miracles are taking place in this war. Early on in the war a non-Jewish priest in Ukraine sent out a letter describing some of the miracles. Everyone has noticed how the great and mighty Russian Army is somehow stalling in its attempt to conquer Ukraine (some of them have begun to turn on each other, and some of them have deserted), and how this unorganized group of Ukrainians — from soldiers to grocery store workers — are succeeding in defending Ukrainian cities and in some cases pushing back on the Russians and taking back land already conquered by the Russians. Putin is desperate, as well as paranoid.
Remember the 40-mile-long row of Russian tanks waiting outside Kiev, waiting to encircle the city then slowly move in and conquer the city. They were waiting outside Kiev — and waiting and waiting and not moving an inch! Why? Some say that they couldn’t move in the mud. Some say they were out of gas, out of food, out of supplies. And some say that those Russians just didn’t want to go. They were mostly young soldiers who were lied to and told that they were just going on maneuvers. One of those captured said that he came with the army because he had signed a contract. He signed the contract because he was told that he had to... and his life was threatened.
There are so many stories like this. Right now, the unprepared Russian soldiers are suffering from frostbite. One Russian general said that about half of his troops are suffering from frostbite. Remember why Napoleon lost the war with Russia? Because the Russian winter set in and Napoleon’s troops weren’t able to handle it. This is Napoleon in reverse... Miracles!
So, we see the Hand of G-d here. Indeed, what Putin is doing is against the laws of nature. We are in a new era now — Swords into Plowshares. The world has changed. There is a new world order — and a new natural order. He is like the guys on the train walking backwards. He is like the fish who says, “I will not get my oxygen from the water (as in “the world will be filled with the knowledge of Hashem as the water covers the ocean bed,” Isaiah ch. 11). I will get my oxygen directly from the air. How long will that fish last?
So too, Putin will not last. There is already talk inside Russia of getting rid of Putin and replacing him with the head of the FSB. The oligarchs don’t like Putin because he is ruining their wealth (because of the sanctions); the generals don’t like him because he is wasting their resources on a useless war — and losing it! And those people in Russia who know what’s going on (Putin has taken over the communication services, including the internet) don’t like him either — he’s ruining Russia.
It’s time to talk about Putin himself. Right now, he’s the most talked about man in the world (maybe that’s what he wanted). Everyone wants to know how far Putin is going to go... when will he stop?
Putin Gone Mad or Vlad the Bad?
There are basically two points of view on Putin’s insane war against Ukraine. One is that Putin is basically the good guy we always thought he was — relative to his being a Russian autocrat — but in recent years he has grown old (he’s almost 70), has become more concerned with his legacy than anything else, and has severely isolated himself (primarily out of concern of Covid), has become paranoid and, in a word, went crazy. Have you seen the long table that he sits at when he receives foreign guests or even his own staff? He sits at one end of this very long table and his visitors sit all the way at the other end. For whatever reason, he doesn’t want anyone near him. There are also credible reports that he has cancer.
The other point of view is that nothing happened to Putin. Regardless of his outward appearances, he is merely acting on plans that he has had all along.
Either way, Putin is finished. He invaded Ukraine and started a senseless, insane war. What he thought would be a 2-3 day operation, resulting in Russian troops being greeted by the population as liberators, turned out to be a long drawn out war against a civilian population. He did not count on the Ukrainians resisting him heroically. They want nothing to do with Putin and don’t want to live under his control.
Yes, civilians have been directly targeted indiscriminately. He killed defenseless women and children and destroyed buildings everywhere. Entire cities, like Mariupol, have been destroyed and the people left have no food, water, heat or electricity.
There is no undoing this. These are war crimes from which there is no turning back. Putin will be gone and Russia will never be the same.
Putin’s Plans for Power
We still don’t know what’s going on in this man’s mind — what he wants and what he’s up to. Early on, we had a positive attitude towards him because he is good to the Jews, has been good (or at least fair) to Israel, and was very friendly to Prime Minister Netanyahu. The fact that Putin’s political enemies often wound-up dead, usually by poisoning but sometimes by outright assassination, was overlooked as necessary to control the country. Putin’s presidency followed the 1990s, an era of chaos in Russia where the oligarchs were in control, getting very rich while the country remained poor. It was the Wild West of Russian society.
This mysterious man is the enigma of the century. Outwardly quiet and polite, there is a lot going on in his mind. To find out what it is we have to ask Putin himself. We have two sources:
1. A long speech he gave at the “Munich Conference on Security Policy” in February, 2007, and
2. A long article he wrote titled “On the historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians” in July, 2021.
Both of these are too long to review here, but I would like to point out a few highlights:
In his speech (1), he opens with the ominous statement: “This conference’s structure allows me to avoid excessive politeness and the need to speak in roundabout, pleasant but empty diplomatic terms. This conference’s format will allow me to say what I really think about international security problems. And if my comments seem unduly polemical, pointed or inexact to our colleagues, then I would ask you not to get angry with me. After all, this is only a conference.”
He talks a lot about international disarmament, but in the middle of it he says,
“Plans to expand certain elements of the anti-missile defense system to Europe cannot help but disturb us. Who needs the next step of what would be, in this case — an inevitable arms race?...
“It turns out that NATO has put its frontline forces on our borders, and we continue to strictly fulfill the treaty obligations and do not react to these actions at all...It represents a serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust. And we have the right to ask: against whom is this expansion intended? And what happened to the assurances our Western partners made after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact? Where are those declarations today?...Where are these guarantees?”
A preview of things to come?
Yet, he ends on a conciliatory note:
“In conclusion...Russia is a country with a history that spans more than a thousand years and has practically always used the privilege to carry out an independent foreign policy. We are not going to change this tradition today.
“At the same time, we are well aware of how the world has changed and we have a realistic sense of our own opportunities and potential. And, of course, we would like to interact with responsible and independent partners with whom we could work together in constructing a fair and democratic world order that would ensure security and prosperity not only for a select few, but for all.
“Thank you for your attention.”
Sounds like the Putin we learned to like — a good guy.
His article (2) can be summarized by its title. It is recommended that the reader take a look at both of these documents (available on Google).
According to Putin’s former KGB boss, Putin is not worried so much about external enemies; he is worried more about internal opposition. His main concern is to hold onto power—and to “make Russia great again.”
And what about the Moshiach side, which would be (putting the war aside for the moment), “...peace and unity, joint effort and mutual aid among the nations of the world, for the good of all mankind” (SIP sicha)?
According to Brian Kilmeade, a Fox News commentator, “Putin has done the impossible—he has unified Europe!”
Conclusion: What Should We Do Now?
I have learned the sichos of 5751-52 many times, but each time I learn one I see something new...
As I learned the SIP sicha (Mishpatim, 5752) recently, a question came to my mind: The first half of the sicha talks about the new development of Swords into Plowshares in the world...
Then, suddenly, in section 9, the Rebbe MHM starts saying that this increases the pain over the fact that the Geula is not complete. Why the sudden change in tone?!
It occurred to me that this is what happens:
By nature, people need an enemy, an opposition, in order to be unified. So, if nations stop fighting each other, but the Geula is not complete, people within nations will start turning against each other, having no common enemy. In fact, this has been happening in the U.S. for some time with Democrats moving further to the left and Republicans moving further to the right with no common ground and no compromise.
We see this most starkly with Russia and Ukraine. First Putin makes a claim at length that Russians and Ukrainians are really one people—that historically they have always been so. Then he attacks them viciously, while arresting and suppressing his own people who oppose the war! What’s the solution?
That’s why, in section 10, the Rebbe MHM starts talking about mishpat (justice, fairness) — how people should relate to each other, especially in the middle of that section: “The conduct and the relationship between a man and his friend should be in a manner of two partners — that each one wants the good of the second partner...” (The rest of the sicha follows this pattern.)
Only with this attitude is it possible for people not to turn against each other, while we wait for the Geula to be complete.
But the main thing is for us to keep our faith strong—even when our knowledge is incomplete. We are on the fast track toward the Geula and the train is moving forward... As the prophet Malachi says, “Suddenly he will enter his chamber — the master whom you are seeking.”