With an open mind

Sermons, essays, articles, arguments and thought pieces from a Liberal Jewish perspective.


Sermons and Thoughts

During the Russian War on Ukraine

26 February 2022
Rabbi Aaron Goldstein
Shabbat Shekalim Parashat Vayakheil

If you prefer to watch a recording of this sermon, you can do so on our YouTube channel.

In the days to come,
The Mount of the Eternal’s House
Shall stand firm above the mountains
And tower above the hills;
And all the nations
Shall gaze on it with joy.

And the many peoples shall go and say:
“Come, Let us go up to the Mount of the Eternal,
To the House of the God of Jacob;
That the Eternal One may instruct us in God’s ways,
And that we may walk in God’s paths.”
For instruction shall come forth from Zion,
The word of the Eternal from Jerusalem.

Thus, God will judge among the nations
And arbitrate for the many peoples,
And they shall beat their swords into ploughshares;
their spears into pruning hooks:
Nation shall not take up
Sword against nation;
They shall never again know war.

These soaring and renown words of the prophet Isaiah (2:2-4), also known by Micah (4:1-4), is a short eschatological poem. It describes Jerusalem as it should and will be: a city of peace, equity, and filled with the Divine Presence.

As the Jewish Study Bible commentary notes, “The prophet does not imagine a future without borders or distinct nationalities. International conflicts will still occur, but nations will no longer resolve them through warfare.”

This morning as we woke to the continued reality of Russian invasion of and war on Ukraine, this vision could not feel more distant. As we heard in our Prayer for Ukraine, written by Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah, it is difficult not to feel helpless, hopeless but that “despair is the dearest friend of tyrants.”

We begin to see that diversity and difference, disagreement and discord, are not the enemies of “peace and freedom, equality and justice;” they are their foundation. However difficult and sometimes chaotic, nations that provide freedom of choice to its citizens, whilst not always stable as they adapt to change, enable God’s creation, humanity, to live free of warfare.

We realise, that power so centralised, in the extreme, to a singly defined group, or even an individual is most likely to descend and resort to military means to maintain the ‘order’ that benefits only them.

As simple citizens, we are realising that the way of our nations is not that of war. In our minds, we have been beating the thought of using our weaponry in war, into ploughshares and pruninghooks. Thus, we are stunned and shocked, surprised and saddened to witness on our screens a country utterly dominated by one man destroy the lives of so many with the use of force.

It is also clear that the leaders of our country and that of its allies, are either ill-prepared to act in the short-term or have made the decision to progress our planet towards peacefulness: By not acting militarily. As a Synagogue that is Czech and Slovak-ophile, we are all too aware of the comparison with the suppression of the Spring Revolution. Are we leaving our friend in Ukraine as a sitting duck, if not to be slaughtered, then condemning them to life under an oppressive regime.

If one is to work towards the long-term good of the world, there must be some point, you do not use military force, and model a better way.

Is this the moment? This morning we ask ourselves that question. Despite Rabbi Alex’s Dukhovny’s thanks to our UK Govt, in his greeting yesterday from a shelter in Kyiv, we may question the efficacy of our response.

Certainly, one of my friends in Lviv does so, “But when we say Never Again – this is not just word’s it is an act. Otherwise, it doesn’t work.” Hearing this cry from your friend, it is hard to refrain from calling for military action. It is not easy for us to talk of long-term, non-violent resolution of conflict when your friends sit in fear beneath the ground, hoping, praying, that their shelter is a sukkat shalom, one that will preserve their life.

Currently, our country and those seeking not to present a single, evil individual, the President of Russia, with the gift he seems to want, an excuse to begin World War 3, seem to be pursuing a non-military response. We can only maintain our contact, sending our messages and prayers to our friends and twin communities in Lviv and Lutsk. They live out the trauma that we feel in our hearts and minds. We can but be together and pray that the wisdom of our many leaders, will defeat that of an evil tyrant.

In time to come perhaps we can follow the advice of the poet, Yehudah Amichai:

Don’t stop after beating the swords into ploughshares, don’t stop!
Go on beating and make musical instruments out of them.
Whoever wants to make war again will have to turn them into ploughshares first!