Sometimes you have to smile. With all the misery piling up from day to day in the ongoing Ukraine saga, there was one light moment. A newscaster in India was interviewing two guests about the crisis. One was an American analyst, the other an editor from a Kiev newspaper. The two guests were broadcasting from different locations and were represented by their own window on the screen. They were identified by the name on their respective windows. The American - as identified by his name - was talking nonstop. This irritated the newscaster who really wanted to hear from the man in Kiev. When the American ignored him, the newscaster challenged him, including by insulting him, and his presumed association with Western ‘colonial’ policy over many decades and centuries. But the American just carried on talking.
At some point the journalist from Kiev seized the chance to speak. He seemed exasperated and demanded to know why he was being insulted. The newscaster assured him that he was castigating the American who wouldn’t stop talking. At this, the man replied that, in fact, he was the American, and the other guy, who wouldn’t stop talking, was actually Ukrainian!
This is when the penny dropped as the newscaster realized that the two men’s identities, as referenced by their names, had been inadvertently switched. He apologized. Watching it online is very funny as one watches the exchange drawing to its humorous conclusion.
I tried to imagine what was going through the mind of the American. As the newscaster’s pitch rose higher and higher, the American must have been wondering why he was being picked on. He hadn’t yet spoken. Yet the newscaster was telling him to be silent. He must have wondered “who am I - what is my true identity?”
Which got me thinking. How often are we confused about our true identity? Who are we when we are not trying to impress others? In our most intimate and private moments of quiet reflection, who is the real me? Who am I? What about in the current terrible crisis? Who am I? Does my voice matter? Can I make a real difference?
The answer is categoric: yes, you can most certainly make a huge difference. People have asked what they can do in the current emergency. I have pointed them in the direction of those on the front lines of the disaster. The Rabbis and community leaders working night and day to ensure that those individuals and families who, in an instant, have gone from normal citizens to becoming refugees, and facing an unknown future, are being cared for.
Those leaders have been joined by Rabbis in nearby countries who are absorbing this flood of humanity, greeting them with food, shelter, supplies and love. The upheaval is tremendous, but these leaders are softening the landing. Anyone who can contribute to these human angels shares in the phenomenal Mitzvah of literally saving lives - as well as people’s personal dignity.
What about those not in a position to directly assist?
There is still something we each can do. Take a leaf from the Purim Megillah, whose story we recently read on the Festival of Purim.
The Megillah relates how the Jews faced total annihilation - genocide. There was nowhere to go. The one individual who held the key to salvation, by having influence in high places, was Esther, the wife of the king. When Mordechai first appraised her of the magnitude of the impending disaster, she replied: ‘who am I? I may be the queen, but I am powerless. Mordechai was emphatic that she, of all the millions of beautiful ladies available to the king, had been chosen to be his wife. Obviously, G-d wanted her there for a reason. Her time was now.
Who are you, Mordechai challenged her? You are the one who can bring salvation. Esther acquiesced. But first she requested that the people fast and pray for three days and nights. Esther understood that the threat and danger could only be addressed and solved via human means once the religious weakness which underpinned it had been repaired. She was aware of the power that each individual possesses, and the difference they would make to her cause.
Esther challenged each individual to go from “who am I?” to “I am the one who can make a difference.” But how? She would provide the physical solution. They would power its success with their commitment to strengthening their own individual religious life.
It’s 2022, and we need a big miracle. We need tremendous Divine mercy and compassion. And G-d is waiting to deliver. He is waiting for each of us to make a move from “who am I?” to “I am the one who can make a difference.” And no one is exempt. The power to drive physical success in the troubles of 2022 is with our commitment to strengthening our own individual religious life.
Make a difference by putting on Tefillin, by lighting Shabbat candles, by reciting an extra prayer, by studying a little more, by reaching out with care, compassion, and forgiveness. Millions of people are counting on you and me. The world is holding its breath - for you and for me to embrace our mission.
Who am I? I think you know the answer!