Lessons from the Russia war on Ukraine

Rabbi Yakov Saacks, The Chai Center, Dix Hills, NY

AUTHOR of The Kabbalah of Life


On February 24th the country of Russia, under the despot Vladimir Putin’s charge, invaded its neighboring country, which like all the former Soviet states, is wholly independent from Russia. Truth be told, Ukraine was violated by Putin and Russia back in 2014 when Russia took over the Crimea region.

Like most, I am completely sickened by any war, as the needless deaths of thousands of men, women and children, combined with destruction, devastation and ruin, are too much to bear. I am crazed that in the time it takes for me to drink a latte, another dozen people are slaughtered.


The famed Kabbalist, Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement, teaches that everything we see, hear and experience must be internalized. To simply watch life go by as a voyeur is not living to one’s potential.

Based on this premise, I began to mentally search for lessons that can be gleaned from this tragedy and heartbreak. I have come up with a few that seem to resonate with me. I am sure that there are many more.


Yes, there still is, despite the global minute to minute news reels, very malevolent and wicked people who care not about anyone other than themselves. Putin completely disregards life, world opinion and lacks emotion. Even the bastard Hitler had some concern about what the world will think and do, and therefore hid the final solution of atrocities committed against innocent human beings from the press. To be so transparent and just not care what the world thinks about innocent death is beyond appalling.

Let this be the answer to those who claim that a Holocaust could never happen again. It can and it is on some level happening in Ukraine 2022. While there are no death camps (yet), the systematic bombing of civilian homes and businesses will cause thousands upon thousands of people to die. In addition, I am positive that the protesters against the war on Russian soil will not have a happy ending either.


The response of the much smaller country and army is inspiring. President Zelensky set the tone that Ukraine is not going down without a fight. The moral strength and courage to stand up to a bully that is much bigger and stronger than you, is a lesson that is not seen or heard enough. Zelensky is a true leader as he motivates his country to fight the tyrant knowing that each day is going to be more punishing, yet rewarding.


The next obvious lesson is that reliance on someone else to help is only part of what one needs to do to survive this sometimes brutal world. The saying God helps those who help themselves comes to mind. While it is true that we need a mentor, clergy, therapist and friend, the difficult work can really only be accomplished by the one who it affects most.

I am sure that Israel is taking note of the fact that the world is only willing to fight this evil from the outside. Sanctions are great and isolating Putin and Russia as a pariah makes sense. However, for Europe to allow Ukraine to fight this war alone does not seem right. We made that mistake once when the world watched as Hitler invaded Poland. Hitler’s thirst for war was not quenched by Poland alone, and I cannot imagine Putin will be happy with just Ukraine. If this hands-off approach is taking place in Europe, you know that the world will stand by when it comes to Israel.


The outpouring of assistance, money, love and physical support has been incredible. I have no idea how much money has been raised from people like you and me, but I know it is huge amounts. When I witness pictures of baby strollers on the Polish border, all donated by Polish mothers, it warms my heart. I think to myself that yes, humanity is alive and well.

There have been so many heroic stories coming out of this tragedy. It seems like heroes are being produced en masse. One story in particular that touched me was when Rabbi Shlomo Wilhelm from the city of Zhytomir arrived in Israel with hundreds of children from his orphanage after a grueling journey, lasting many hours, with many miracles along the way. You would think that he would run and take a shower, maybe have a normal meal after not eating properly for days. But no, he found an Israeli Jew at the airport who needed to do the Mitzvah of wrapping Tefillin. So, that is what he did.

This is a hero.


This war is just a microcosm of the macrocosm. The world seems to be very unstable right now. So much distortion, confusion, misunderstanding, ego, immorality and hatred. We need to get our acts together. All the aforementioned bad attributes led to war which is the antithesis of what human beings should be involved with. You think man was created for war? A resounding no. It is our sacred duty to make this world that we live in a far better place than it was before we came into it.

We need to play and not fight. We need to talk and not shout at one another. We need to help people, not kill them. We need to work on our humility and not our ego. Compassion, sympathy and empathy are the ingredients of human to human interactions and relationships. Not being caring or compassionate is inhumane.

Love is the antidote – spread it around some more.

Please feel free to share.


About the Author
Rabbi Yakov Saacks is the founder and director of The Chai Center, Dix Hills, NY. The Chai Center has been nicknamed by some as New York's most Unorthodox Orthodox Center.