This past Shabbat's Torah portion, which relates the escape of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, resonates with many of our brethren from the USSR, and prompted this reflection from Rabbi Yosef Mendelevich. It's translated from the Hebrew by Rabbi David Stahl --
- Glenn Richter
The redemption of Israel is inextricably tied to the world's redemption.
"When Israel left Egypt....the Sea looked out and fled, the River Jordan turned back, the mountains danced like rams, the hills like young sheep ". (Psalms, 114)
It is stated that the Exodus from Egypt took place under the influence of Hashem's special four-letter Name, that Name which contains the essence of the world, and not under the name Sha-dai, which denotes a constriction of existing systems. Just as the sixth day of Creation was not completed until the sixth day of Sivan, the day of our receiving the Torah, similarly, the Exodus from Egypt marked a new creation in this world.
Not only the Jewish people went forth from slavery to freedom, but, in addition, a state of freedom was created worldwide whereby one person could no longer enslave his fellow man at his will. This meant that freedom became a living concept, and thus, for every person and nation, each according to its capacity, the option of freedom now existed, something which had not been possible previously.
From that moment on, the Jewish people have brought the concept of freedom to humanity.
- With the renewal of Israel's independence in 1948, the British Empire began to crumble. In place of colonies, many independent countries arose, each according to its own unique values and understanding.
- The 1967 Six-Day war brought the message to those captured nations who were under the yoke of the Soviet Empire since World War II. The Six Day War was not only a salvation for Israel, but, in addition, a sign that that it was indeed possible to be victorious over Soviet weapons, and, indeed, over the Soviet Union itself. Perhaps, here in Israel, a proper appreciation of what had transpired in 1967 was absent, but among other nations there was a true understanding. The "Prague Spring", and the rise of the "Solidarity" workers' movement in Poland were the direct result of Israel's lightning victory in 1967. I recall how we activists in the Jewish underground movement in the USSR, listened to the broadcasts describing the revolutionary process transpiring in Czechoslovakia, with the leaders of the uprising there reportedly appearing before their public in the uniform of the Israeli army.
Even our enemies understood this well. My cousin, Dr. Menachem Gordon, told me that on the day that the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia, he was summoned to the KGB for questioning. According to Gordon, the KGB headquarters in Riga was a hotspot of action. The interrogator had no time to "deal with" my cousin, so that when one of the officers entered the interrogation room, where Dr. Gordon was being held, he blurted out, "Our forces have invaded Czechoslovakia". The officer waited for my cousin's, reaction, stating: "We'll first finish off the Czech nationalists and then, deal with Jewish nationalists in Russia."
Gordon saw the connection. So did I. When he returned and filled me in on the details of the interrogation, I clenched my fists and told myself: "They won't bring us down, we'll win". "You employ force, we will also utilize force". All this took place close to the initial planning for "Operation Wedding": an attempt to overpower a Soviet airplane, bringing about unrest all over the world, and thereby, breach the "Iron Curtain". Despite the fact that our main objective was to bring redemption to the Jewish people in our exile in Russia, some part of our struggle was an act of revenge against the violence perpetrated against the Czech people, and a way to avenge this despicable act.
- Our Jewish struggle brought about redemption for those nations living under Soviet occupation. For them it was a sign that it was possible to wage war against the Soviets
After the "Leningrad Trial", in December-January 1971, my late sister Eva returned from the trial to Riga. She reported to her workplace as a midwife in the largest hospital in Latvia. She personally apologized to the head nurse for her work absences. The nurse answered her: " My dear Eva, what are you talking about? What apology? We're proud of you!"
A strange phenomenon took place where Latvians, who were under Soviet occupation, took pride in Jews who risked their lives in the struggle against the Soviet dictatorship. The same Latvians, who participated in the murder of all its Jews during the Holocaust, were now proud of us, for they saw a ray of light to the return of their independence.
While sitting in the punishment cell, I was told by a leader of the then Ukrainian nationalist movement, Alex Lukenenko: "You Jews serve as a symbol of hope in the struggle for Ukrainian independence ". We, Prisoners for Zion, received a great amount of support from young Ukrainians and others in Siberian prisons, where Ukrainians constituted the majority of prisoners in these locales.
Sovietologists, experts on the Soviet Union, concede in their studies, that the struggle for emigration of Soviet Jews to Israel, was one of the decisive factors resulting in the fall of the evil Soviet Union
Thus, we the Jewish people, have brought redemption to the oppresed nations of the Soviet Union. The Berlin Wall did not fall before my friends and I arrived at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
The people of Israel are "a light unto the nations". The prophet Isaiah spoke about this over 2,800 years ago. It is worthwhile for us sometimes to remind ourselves of this, in order to be aware of the tremendous responsibility that Hashem has placed upon us.
G-d took the Jewish people out of Egyptian bondage to achieve eternal redemption.