Translation by Yehoshua Siskin (http://yehoshuasiskin.blogspot.com)
Inna Markovich, a rebbetzin in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, wrote me as follows:
"Shalom Sivan. My husband had been an Israeli Air Force pilot for 12 years when we decided to go as Chabad emissaries to Kiev with our seven children. Today my husband is the chief rabbi of Kiev, and we have been on this mission for 21 years. We had a flourishing community here until the first whiff of war was in the air a month ago. Since then, most of the prosperous residents of Kiev have left the country. Those who remain are mainly the elderly (pensioners in Ukraine receive seventy dollars a month), the sick, Holocaust survivors, and average hardworking people.
We are distributing more and more hot meals and food baskets. We are also responsible for a school and several kindergartens, including a kindergarten for autistic children, the first of its kind in Ukraine.
In such a situation, we could not just leave everything and return to Israel. We decided to stay and not to abandon those in need.When the bombardment started, the Jews began to congregate in our community center. There are no bomb shelters in Kiev and no directives on how to proceed in emergency situations.
Meanwhile, we have enough mattresses and food in storage to take care of everyone, but we do not know how long these supplies will be sufficient. We have had to hire armed guards because of the possibility of robbery and looting since there are simply no police. We have embarked on a fund-raising campaign for the first time. As the sirens and explosions are heard, we are trying to encourage and take care of all those who continue to stream into the community center.
We managed Shabbat. We did not anticipate welcoming 'Shabbat Mevarchim,' on which we bless the new month of Adar Beit, in this manner. For 'when Adar enters, joy increases.' As we know, there is special power in those moments when Shabbat candles are lit. I would ask every woman reading these words to remember us in her prayers. \
After reading Inna's letter, I realized that while Adar comes in with a different joy this year in Ukraine, it also leads to reading about another Jewish heroine in.Megillat Esther
I’ve just been reading the newly published book, “Megillat Esther of the Soul,” (in Hebrew only) by Chagai Londin. The author maintains that Megillat Esther, which we will soon be reading on Purim, is not only about an existential struggle between Haman and Mordechai/Esther, but about a struggle within the soul of everyone of us. Londin holds that there is in each of us an Achashveirosh, a Mordechai, an Esther, and a Haman.
The Megillah deals with a conflict between good and evil in which good triumphs thanks to God, who crafts every detail of the unfolding story even though His name is not mentioned anywhere. In the Purim story, a surprising, radical turn of events leads to a happy ending. This is meant to instruct that a similarly radical shift in our souls would make it possible for us to overcome all difficulties.
While reading Londin’s book, I began to look at the events in the news differently: What can be learned from Putin? Does our uncompromising stubbornness also bring about destruction? And what can we learn from Zelinsky, the Ukrainian president, who was thought of as “the stand-up president” (due to his former career as a comic), yet now is revealed as a bold and impressive leader?
And what can be learned about the unique solidarity of our own people? A spokesperson for the foreign office told me that other foreign embassies in Ukraine have long been empty, even while those in the Israeli embassy are looking for Israelis in every corner of the country in an attempt to help them get across the border. To say nothing of Chabad and what we can learn from the self-sacrifice of its emissaries in Ukraine. Not everyone would stay behind to run an orphanage under Russian fire, an act that makes us stop and think about the extent of our personal concern for others.
And here, too, there is a director behind the scenes of a complicated and vexing story. If only now everything will once again flip in a radical “nahafoch hu” moment, bringing “ora v’simcha,” light and joy.
And something for Parashat Shavua, Pekudei: Conducting business with soul
Yehuda Ehrenfeld, who operates a chain of fresh produce stores, wrote yesterday as follows:
"In the northern city of Rekhasim, a new fresh produce store with outstanding prices has opened, in direct competition with me. Over the past few days I have received messages such as "Aren't you concerned? How will you react?" My first instinct was to get upset and to fight, to speak with the suppliers of the new store, to lower my prices to the floor, and all sorts of other things that darken the soul.
But then I felt that this is not what the Creator of the universe wants from two Jews who only desire to support their families. The Creator can certainly take care of both of us. So I found the telephone number of the new store owner, whose name is Oded, and introduced myself as general manager of the 'Katuf' stores. I sent him my best wishes for success in his new store since I have no doubt whatsoever that each of us will have his own customers.
No, I am not so righteous. I just recalled that this was how I was treated in the past when the shoe was on the other foot. Two years ago, I opened my first branch in the city of El'ad, the home of Yisrael Greenfeld, who used the same concept as I did to sell produce. In the midst of conducting a massive advertising campaign in El'ad, I received a message from him and I could not believe what I read: 'Mazal tov on the opening of your store. I am reducing my own advertising in the coming weeks in order not to take the spotlight away from you.' People told me that this was a trick and they did not trust what I had been told. But Greenfeld explained to me that he truly believed that there is always plenty for everyone. Today, incidentally, he and I are business associates.
I will conclude with the blessing that Moshe Rabbeinu gave upon completion of construction of the Mishkan: 'May it be God's will that the Divine Presence rest in the work of your hands.' If only all of us could earn our livelihood in such a manner, displaying mutual respect toward one another."