If you have learned the sicha of Mishpotim 5752 (or read our overview of the sicha), then you already know the Rebbe’s declaration from over 30 years ago that we have already entered “a new epoch in international relations — eliminating a situation of wars between states of the world, illustrated by the reduction and destruction of weaponry…”. The Rebbe repeats several times throughout the sicha the term “nation-states of the world” (מדינות העולם). This indicates that in the new epoch there won’t necessarily be a complete end to bloodshed or fighting, but that the conflicts will not be between one state and another (as was the case throughout history).
In fact, since this sicha was said, wars between states have become almost completely non-existent. True, there have been many bloody conflicts: civil wars, rebel insurgencies, and wars on terror continued to claim victims. But wars between states? Almost completely extinct! The Rebbe’s words have had tangible proof! (see chart:)
However, on the 24th of Adar, 5782 (2022) something happened which seemed to disturb the fulfillment of the words of the prophet Yeshayahu about “nation not raising sword against nation”: the Russian army invaded Ukraine. A clear war between nation-states. A clear case of the “old world order” where a country with a grievance against another country takes matters into its own hands via military power. Many felt a need to confront the question: How does this war in Ukraine fit with what the Rebbe says in the sicha?
On the face of it, the war in Ukraine definitely seems like a “bump in the road” that demands explanation. But with a little background, we will see that there really isn’t a question here. To explain:
If we return to the year 5751 (corresponding to 1990/1991) we find ourselves looking at the Persian Gulf war. Iraq, led by Saddam Hussein, claimed that the independent state of Kuwait was not truly an independent nation but rather historic Iraqi territory. Iraq attacked and conquered Kuwait. In response, a coalition of some 35 countries joined together, supported by United Nations sanctions, to drive Iraq out of Kuwait and restore the Gulf nation’s sovereignty. In effect they were saying: “the Lubavitcher Rebbe has announced that wars between states have been eliminated, therefore we won’t tolerate your invasion of Kuwait!”
The fighting — Operation Desert Storm — began on Rosh Chodesh Shvat, 5751. A few days later, Shabbos Parshas Bo, the Rebbe spoke about the events at the farbrengen in 770. Among other things, the Rebbe spoke about the “King of Bovel” (seemingly a reference to Saddam Hussein) — that they destroyed his palace, he is on the run without communication with his armies, he wanders from place to place without rest, his existence is in danger. In fact, the coalition had no plans to depose Saddam, who was at that time comfortably ordering the firing of SCUD missiles at Israel from his military command center. What the Rebbe described at the farbrengen did not match the reality. One of the transcribers of the Rebbe’s sichos, YY Jacobson, tells that he received a phone call that night from the Rebbe’s secretary Leibel Groner. He was told, in the name of the Rebbe, that they should not publicize the parts of the Sicha that spoke about the war.* The Rebbe had said “the time will yet come” (“עוד חזון למועד” — a posuk from the Novi Chavakuk regarding the Geuloh).
As is known, the Gulf war ended after about six weeks. Saddam Hussein’s army had been defeated, but Saddam himself remained firmly and ruthlessly in power. A year later, 5752, the Rebbe spoke and edited the Sicha of Mishpotim, where he states that the world has entered “a new epoch in international relations — eliminating a situation of wars between states of the world.”
Eleven years later (12 years to the day (Purim) that the first Gulf War ended), the second Gulf War was launched. This time, Saddam Hussein was the target and he was indeed forced to flee his palace, fleeing from place to place, hiding, out of contact with his military — exactly the details the Rebbe had said in the sicha of 5751!
What this means to us is that when the Rebbe edited the sicha of Mishpotim for publication in 5752, he knew full-well that the there would be another war in Iraq. When the Rebbe publicized that the world has entered “a new epoch in international relations — eliminating a situation of wars between states of the world”, this clearly did not mean that there would never again be another war between states!
Thus, the question as to how Russia could invade Ukraine doesn’t even begin to be a question. Especially when we find that the response of the world to the war in Ukraine is very similar to what occurred in 5751: the nations of the world refuse to accept that one state can invade another state, and are using many and various methods (military, economic, etc.) to “convince” Vladimir Putin to end his military operations and resolve his issues without warfare.
To summarize: the sicha of Mishpotim 5752 is not telling us that wars between one state and another are already extinct (since the Rebbe knew that there would be another invasion of Iraq) but rather that among the nations of the world this is no longer acceptable behavior. They refused to accept it when Saddam Hussein did it. They are refusing to accept it now that Vladimir Putin is doing it. The world has truly entered a new epoch, and in fact the war in Ukraine provides proof that the Rebbe’s words are true and eternal!
* The Rebbe’s editorial staff released this “hidden sicha” at the time of the second Gulf War (5763/2003). It was translated and published in English, but I haven’t been able to find it on the internet. Here is a link to the “hidden sicha” in loshon hakodesh: Hidden Sicha of Bo 5751_LAHAK