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Miracles from (and for) a little city in Ukraine

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“My family watched the Zoom with your rabbi in Ukraine, and my daughter got her whole class at Herzlia to write letters to the kids there. Please forward this to them.”

Who would imagine that what happened in a little overseas city, in a Ukraine port, would be reverberating here in Cape Town and around the world.

But that’s exactly what happened 120 years ago this month, and again this week.

On the 11th of Nissan in the year 1902 (to be celebrated this year on Tuesday, 12 April 2022), a little boy was born to his parents who lived in the Ukrainian city of Nikolayev.

Over the past four weeks, the students and ambassadors of that little boy, the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M Shneerson, have marshalled their resources, raised millions of dollars from across the globe, and evacuated more than 30 000 refugees from the terrifying war zone, all while many of them remained behind themselves to care for the sick and elderly.

While they haven’t split the sea, the miracles that G-d is performing through them is a natural continuation of our first Exodus.

This Shabbat, we have the special Torah reading of Hachodesh, in which we read about Moshe’s first marching orders directing him towards the most famous (and miraculous) evacuation in the history of mankind, with the defining words (for which this Shabbos is named): “Hachodesh” – (this month is the beginning) of a new supernatural channel that will define your new nation.

We recreate that reality daily by tapping into the indomitable spirit of our soul and our willingness to pay the ultimate sacrifice for that.

But that’s not the whole story, because the actual parsha of this week is of a very different, if not entirely opposite nature.

As opposed to the Exodus, which relies on inspiration from above, parshas Tazriya opens with the most down-to-earth natural human experience – childbirth. This is a metaphor for the self-driven spiritual work of investing in ourselves and ultimately giving birth to a healthy, sustainable relationship with G-d (and the purpose for which He created us).

The juxtaposition of the special reading of Hachodesh’s divinely Inspired Exodus theme on a Shabbat whose regular parsha actually emphasises the importance of human initiative, reminds us that the synthesis of the contrasting drives isn’t just possible – it’s imperative.

The Zhitomir orphans resettled in Israel, the Odesa refugees in Germany, and the Herzlia girl in Cape Town, all remind us that it’s by bringing supernatural, miraculous energy into everyday experiences that the world is rapidly becoming a better place.

Like the vision of that little boy in Ukraine almost 120 years ago.

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