Following are holiday letters written by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar to the Jewish community in Russia. Translations provided by Izabella Tabarovsky.
To the Jews of Russia:
I congratulate you from my heart on the holiday of Rosh Hashanah.
Followers of Judaism in our country deeply honor the invaluable historical and spiritual heritage of their ancestors, and transmit their ancient, distinctive religious and cultural traditions from generation to generation. One of the most important events in the life of the Jewish community is, rightly, the celebration of the New Year in accordance with the Jewish calendar. On these days it is customary to sum up the results of one’s path and make plans for the future, to care about the purity of intentions and actions, to help fellow human beings.
I’ll note the great, much-needed work that Jewish religious organizations do to implement socially meaningful charitable, educational, and patriotic projects, their ceaseless attention toward strengthening peace and harmony, mutual respect, and good neighborly relations. And, of course, your contribution to the joint fight against the threat of the coronavirus infection.
I wish you health, success in all your deeds and undertakings.
Once again—happy holiday!
September 18, 2020
I want to congratulate you with the holiday of Sukkot—a holiday that the Torah calls “zman simchateinu,” a “time of our happiness.” This is the only holiday we have that is not tied to any historical event, nor to any miracles that G-d created for the sake of our people or for the sake of mankind. And it is also the only holiday for which Torah commands us to be happy—and does so not once but three times!
It would seem to be a paradox. But our sages explain: True joy is not a result of some positive events in our lives. True joy is a state of mind: It is the correct perspective on all that is around us; it is an ability to appreciate life in all its variety. G-d gave you a gift of life—what could be a more important, more meaningful reason for joy?!
We are living through a challenging time. One of the main problems of the pandemic is the stress it creates that frequently crosses into panic. Ask a person why he is frightened, why he is so tense, and he’ll respond: Because I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, I don’t know what will happen to me. What if I, G-d forbid, fall ill? And what if I, G-d forbid, fall ill again?
Doctors are already openly warning that the gravest consequence of the epidemic may turn out to be psychological trauma that results from people’s own fear. Not only does it prevent a person from acting rationally, it also weakens the body’s defenses, and makes the person vulnerable against the coronavirus and all other illnesses!
The holiday of Sukkot teaches us a lesson on how to avoid this condition. This holiday was established when our people left Egypt and were in the desert—having no idea what tomorrow will bring. There was nothing around them—neither food, nor water, nor shelter. But the people were joyful, for they believed: Now that we are free, all will be well. And G-d surely did provide for all their needs! Nothing to eat? Here’s manna coming from heaven. Nothing to drink? Here’s a spring gushing from the rock. Unbearable heat? G-d sends clouds that surround the people and diminish it.
In other words, Sukkot teaches us that man must do what is in his powers and rely on G-d for everything else. Believe that G-d won’t abandon him, that He will help without fail. And this faith gives joy, it gives inner strength to overcome any obstacles!
Our sages teach: “Nothing brings greater happiness than the removal of doubt.” And indeed—there is no greater enemy of joy than doubt and insecurity. Once doubt departs, joy takes its place! This is precisely the happiness of Sukkot: not a satisfaction from some positive event but a natural condition of the soul. The condition of the soul of a human being who puts his trust in G-d, follows G-d with optimism and believes that with G-d’s help, all will be well!
With this happiness—the happiness of Sukkot—we have nothing to fear. With it we will overcome all trials. So let us use the days of the holiday, “the time of our happiness,” in order to leave our current trials ever more confident, ever stronger!
Chief Rabbi of Russia
October 2, 2020
Vladimir Putin is the president of Russia. Rabbi Berel Lazar is Russia’s chief rabbi.