I sat down with my friend Rabbi Chaim Eisen in Jerusalem and asked him to reflect on the Russian-Ukrainian war.
You can meet Rabbi Eisen for a live discussion on Zoom regarding the War and the Bible
Sunday, March 13 at 7:00 PM Israel Time
Israel Today: How do you understand this war?
Rabbi Eisen: The war now breaking out between Russia and Ukraine has everything to do with God’s sovereignty, “the counsel of God.” This is what we learn from Proverbs 9:21. Or as we say in Yiddish “Der Mensch Tracht, Un Gott Lacht,” which means “man plans and God laughs.”
Our tradition teaches us that everyone can choose what my role is to be in the vast cosmic drama of history which is orchestrated by God. We can choose to be meritorious and heed God’s charge, or we can choose to disregard God’s revealed will and do everything to thwart it. And this too will ultimately advance God’s plan and contribute to its fulfillment.
What I cannot do is to sit this one out and be irrelevant because whatever we do, or don’t do, impacts the course through which God’s plan is fulfilled. If we choose to work with God we advance His plan and save ourselves, and if we work against God we advance still His plan, but we destroy ourselves in the process.
Ultimately, in this situation of war and what is taking place in Europe today, we do not know what God has in mind.
So is it wrong what Russia is doing?
We know and can say unequivocally that launching an unprovoked war and shooting rockets at a civilian population is evil. What Russia is doing, without question, is worthy of condemnation. It is evil.
At the same time, I make no pretense of being able to understand how or what Russia is doing works out to be a part of God’s plan. That is a mystery, but this war did not take place despite God. Understanding that this war is somehow part of God’s plan in no way exonerates the evil that is being perpetrated by the Russians.
How do you see Europe’s role in this?
The current unprecedented unity of Europe and the West in their support for Ukraine and condemnation of the Russian invasion has a lot to do with the idolatry of their own standards as opposed to God’s standards.
The European stance against Russian aggression is, on the one hand, something that we commend. Russia’s belligerence is unconscionable. But am I to presume that the European stance reflects some newfound moral integrity that has miraculously swept the continent? I would have to be a fool to think that.
We must acknowledge that there are Machiavellian interests that are manifest in the European stance as well. Whether it is to posture a European stance against Russia, or ultimately to exert its own influence or power around the world.
I have often noted that when the Constitution of the European Union was up for ratification, the Netherlands, the first country to vote on it, rejected it because it nowhere mentions God. It said nothing about the Christian heritage of Europe and many believers were relieved by the vote, considering the virulence of the proposed Constitution! And by the way, I don’t know if this was an accidental architectural inspiration, but the building that houses the European Parliament is evocative of some early depictions of the Tower of Babel.
My point is that when people get together to do what is right by God, it ultimately has nothing to do with their own personal agenda. We certainly applaud Europe coming out against the Russian aggression, but after all, this is the same Europe that is now cozying up to Iran and is on the brink of signing a devastating nuclear accord with Tehran which isn’t just bad for Israel, it’s bad for the whole world.
Nor are we about to look to Europe for guidance on what constitutes morality. What defines morality is completely off Europe’s radar screen. Again, we applaud their opposition to Russian aggression, but it is not going to impress us as some principled stance. A principled stance means it is a principled stance consistently.
Europe has made an idol of their own standards instead of God’s. The moment that God is out of the picture opportunism takes over and “what works for us is what goes.”
What is happening in Europe is similar to what was happening in Jeremiah’s time, which shows how a people that loses their connection with God triggers the enemies to attack (Chap 44). This is of course not an excuse for Putin or a justification of his evil action toward the people of Ukraine, but there is a higher power released that makes these evil actions possible. You could say that God withholds His protection.
The people initially came to Jeremiah in contrition and promised to listen to and obey God, “Whether it is pleasant or unpleasant” (chap 42:6). These same people in the very next chapter say that they will now do whatever they want like and continue to worship the Queen of Heaven (43:2).
The moment that there is this break with God, and we are dedicated only to ourselves and our own agendas, there is no depth of depravity to which one cannot sink.
Like Europe, the Western world has abandoned God and formed an obsession with “rights.” There is no biblical word or concept for the idea of “rights” as we know it in today’s world. The Bible is about our responsibilities. We have the right to exercise our responsibilities. Any “rights” we may have are a gift, and there are strings attached with responsibilities. Secular society, whether in Europe or the US, is obsessed with rights and a repudiation of responsibilities.
Nations that were formerly Christian have turned everything upside down. There is a real spiritual war going on and the rulers of the world are like pieces on a chess board. When the Messiah comes he will reset things back in their upright position as it was meant to be.
God has granted so many gifts to the people of Europe, but instead of showing appreciation for all that they have, and in particular this last generation which should have seen a summons to return to God after WWII, the opposite has happened, even as the Lord has declared:
“Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joy and gladness of heart in all your abundance, you will serve your enemies the LORD will send against you in famine, thirst, nakedness, and destitution. He will place an iron yoke on your neck until He has destroyed you.” Deut. 28:47
God will not be mocked
Abraham Lincoln in his address concerning the many losses during the American Civil War said that God may will that the war continues “until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword,” and that the war was the country’s “woe due.” In this second inaugural speech Lincoln was expositing on “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether” from Psalm 19:9.
If the goodness that God grants us does not become a summons for that internal process of spiritual growth by which we turn to justice, truth and the good, if we are only concerned with ourselves and not as beholden to God, we have steered ourselves into self-deception which eventually leads to the kind of rude awakening we are witnessing once again Europe, Russia and Ukraine.
You can meet Rabbi Eisen for a live discussion on Zoom on the War and the Bible
Sunday, March 13 at 7:00 PM Israel Time
Rabbi Chaim Eisen is a graduate of the Yeshivat Hakotel Theological Seminary in Jerusalem. also studied at Yeshivas Heichal HaTorah BeTzion, also in Jerusalem. In addition, he studied science and general philosophy at Columbia University of New York. Along with his traditional background in religious studies, he holds adegree in biophysics from Columbia, having graduated summa cum laude with membership on the Dean’s List and in the Phi Beta Kappa honor society. He has been teaching, editing, and publishing Judaica professionally for over 37 years.