Introduction: I recall a poignant moment in 1985 when Jenny and I visited the small chapel on the side of the Mt of Olives named ‘Dominus Flevit’ – which is Latin for ‘The Lord wept’. It is teardrop shaped reflecting the tears of Christ as he wept over Jerusalem. Jerusalem, Jerusalem….How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
A sad choice: It's a deep lament, issuing out of Christ’s love for Jerusalem and its people. How he longed for their response to his coming to them, to the ‘lost sheep of the House of Israel’! He came for their blessing and to guide them back to the path of peace and fulfilment – back to the purpose for which they were born. As Abraham’s descendants their very existence and land was to be a blessing to all nations, according to the Covenant God made with Abraham; Jerusalem herself was to be the city of peace for the world, from which would ensue the just and gentle rule of God. In their Messiah’s rejection all this would be lost until he comes again. What a tragic choice his own people made in that day in his rejection. The city has not been at peace since, and the Temple, the heart of their worship, was to be destroyed within a generation, never to return until the Messiah comes in power and glory at the conclusion of this age.
Tragic choices: What a tragic choice Vladimir Putin made to dominate the Ukrainian people by force! Russians fighting their own brethren. How Jesus must be weeping over the situation, the awful and unnecessary loss of life and over President Putin’s rejection of the ways of negotiation and peace! Why do people make such tragic and dark choices which cause so much human suffering?
I understand that the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, a close friend of President Putin, is working privately behind the scenes. President Zelensky continues to try and negotiate a just peace or at least for a safe passage out of the country for Ukrainian refugees.
As well as President Macron, Prime Minister Bennett of Israel is trying to mediate between Russia and Ukraine. He met with President Putin last Saturday (5th) at the Kremlin and spoke 3 times on the phone with President Zelensky. Although he believed the chances of success were slim, he stated that Israel had a moral obligation to ‘leave no stone unturned.’ Zelensky thanked Israel for its support. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if his visit did have a positive impact; for the possibility of peace to ensue from Jerusalem? Unlikely, but might an historic event hold sway over Mr Putin, even at this late hour?
The following story is written in a book by Rabbi Reuvan Elbaz; might it be true?
This happened several years ago, in the midst of Hanukkah. In Moscow, a large Hanukkah party was held for the Jewish community, which was attended by the Chief Rabbi of Russia (Rabbi Berl Lazar Shlit"a) and the President of Russia - Mr. Vladimir Putin.
The Chief Rabbi held a speech on Hanukkah eve, after which the President was given the honour to speak in the presence of the large crowd of Jews that had gathered there.
Putin stood up to speak and surprised the crowd: "Please listen, Jews, as I want to tell you a real story that happened here in Russia, I’m familiar with all its details.
"A poor family lived in one of the neighbourhoods - two parents and one small child. The parents worked hard from morning until night to make a living, while their child returned to an empty and lonely home until his parents came back. He sat in the small, dark house, hungry and lonely, joyless, with nothing to do, until his parents came home and gave him some food.
And there, in their neighbourhood, lived a modest and good Jewish family. Every time they saw the little boy waiting alone in the house, they would approach him and ask him if he had anything to eat. In most cases, he would say no, and they immediately did their best to ensure he had warm and delicious food to eat, without ever asking for anything in return. On Shabbats and Jewish holidays, they invited him to their home and served him delicacies and meats, all out of the goodness of their generous hearts, they were compassionate and always looked for ways to make him feel better.
So, for a long time, the non-Jewish boy became a part of the family in their home, he received a large portion of food, same as the rest of the family members. When the Jews saw that the boy's clothes were ripped, they made sure to give him warm and cosy clothes suited for the Russian cold. This kid didn’t know how to thank them, they just saved his life every day.
Dozens of non-Jewish neighbours, who knew about this, didn’t even pay him any attention, and it was only this family that cared for others, and were looking at what was happening around them, who saved his miserable soul."
President Putin ended his speech with a shocking revelation and said, "Dear Jews, do you want me to tell you who that poor, miserable boy was whose life was enlightened by Jews?”
Then he went on to say: “This was me... and I will never be able to forget the sympathy and compassion of the Jews that cared for me. To this day, I can still hear the melody of the meal hand-washing blessing, Hamotzi, and Birkat HaMazon said by the family members whenever I attended their Shabbat and holiday meals.
I don’t forget, dear Jews, the good you’ve done to me, I am the president of the superpower that is Russia, and hence, our relationship is so good, it’s all thanks to how much you care about the others, and the poor!”
Although this, in no way excuses Putin's criminal behaviour. It does highlight the power of good deeds. We never know what long-term effects and results might come from even a single good deed we do today.
Conclusion: Even if the story is just apocryphal, its essence of acts of kindness bearing good fruit remains true for all time.
Let’s, therefore, make kind deeds a deliberate practice this Lent, to accompany our prayers for Ukraine. In due season, they will bear good fruit. Who knows? Our acts of kindness may just change history.
The Rev’d Hugh Ellis