What would the prophet Deborah do in response to the war in Ukraine?

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Leap of Faith

What would the prophet Deborah do in response to the war in Ukraine?

A stimulating new series where our progressive rabbis consider how biblical figures might act when faced with 21st Century issues

The Spring Revolution in Prague in 1968
The Spring Revolution in Prague in 1968

As we face the continued reality of Russian invasion of and war on Ukraine, it is difficult not to feel helpless and hopeless. 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 those 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.

One of my friends in Lviv tells me: “When we say ‘Never Again’, these are not just words – it is an act. Otherwise, it doesn’t work.”

Hearing this cry, 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 friends sit in fear beneath the ground, hoping and praying that their shelter is a sukkat shalom, one that will preserve their life.

Our synagogue has many Czech and Slovak connections, so we are all too aware of the comparison with the suppression of the Spring Revolution in 1968 when the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia. Are we leaving our friends in Ukraine as sitting ducks? If not to be slaughtered, then condemning them to life under an oppressive regime? Or, for the long-term good, does the West need to refrain from resorting to military action, which would perpetuate the cycle of violence?

What would Deborah, the prophet from the Book of Judges, say?

A Canaanite King ‘oppressed Israel ruthlessly’. The Israelite military commander, Barak, will only go into battle if Deborah goes with. She responds affirmatively, but adds: “There will be no glory for you in the course you are taking, for then the Eternal One will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.”

The woman that Deborah spoke of turns out not to be her, but Yael. She was a member of a friendly tribe who used her position to seduce and then kill the leader of the Canaanite army. Three individuals, Deborah, Barak and Yael, each had to play their part to defeat their foe. And yet, the biblical account does not state that any of them ‘subdued’ King Jabin of Canaan. Rather, “God subdued…”

Today, we pray that the wisdom of many leaders will defeat an evil tyrant and the might that he commands. As individuals, we maintain our contact with Ukrainians through messages and prayers, and provide support, financially and materially. I believe, as Deborah would say, we acknowledge that no single individual will be the ‘hero’.

We all must play our part and then pray that God will support all efforts to ‘subdue’ evil and bring a shelter of peace to Ukrainians living out the trauma that we feel in our hearts and minds.

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