The second round of Ukraine's presidential elections are being held today (Sunday). For those who have not been following the frontrunner to win the presidency is Viktor Yanukovych, the same person who was ousted from power due to allegations of voter fraud and corruption during the Orange Revolution in 2004. What in 2004 was seen as a peaceful revolution, a powerful display of democracy and a move towards the directions of freedom quickly became a nightmare of inefficiency and political infighting. So now the Ukraine has lost faith in that type of democracy and seems to be reverting to the type of leadership that harkens back to authoritarianism.
But what happened? Why was such an historic revolution squandered by the every people who brought it about? Why couldn’t the people of the Ukraine sustain the march towards real and transparent democratic change that they all craved for? Why are they now poised to elect the very person who the Orange Revolution threw out because of his obvious corruption and authoritarian tendencies? The answer can be found in the Torah where it talks about a revolution that stuck for thousands of years.
The Israelites were swiftly and miraculously emancipated from Egyptian bondage and their destination was the Promised Land. But as soon as the Israelites escaped Egypt the Egyptians pursued them and within a few days they were caught between an advancing Egyptian army and the Sea of Reeds. A miracle occurred and the Sea of Reeds split. The Israelites went through the sea on dry land while the Egyptians continued their pursuit. As the Israelites emerged on the other side, the sea closed in on the Egyptians and they drowned.
What is the significance of this story? There is a rabbinic dictum which states that G-d does not change the laws of nature at whim, He only performs miracles when it is absolutely necessary. Surely G-d could have engineered an exodus without having to perform such an amazing feat.
The passage of the Israelites on dry land through the split sea has tremendous symbolism; it signifies the change of nature the Israelites went through at that time. Before the Israelites crossed the sea they may have become free in body but in spirit they still had a slave mentality. The Midrash notes that as the Israelites went through the sea they experienced tremendous levels of spiritual revelation.
This changed their entire perception: the transformation of the Israelites into free people was now complete. The sea’s innate state – water – metamorphosing into dry land symbolizes the Israelite’s transformation from the mentality of slave to the mindset of liberty.
The pursuing Egyptian army underlines the fact that until the Israelites had become free in spirit as well as body they were susceptible to being entrapped once more by a tyrannical Egyptian regime. But the moment that they acquired the attitude and outlook of freedom the Egyptians were no longer able to entice them back into slavery. The drowning of the Egyptian army as the Israelites emerged from the sea symbolizes this idea. After their metamorphosis into truly free people—in both mind and spirit—the Israelites were able to receive their national constitution, the Ten Commandments and the Torah on Mount Sinai. Once they had received the Torah they were ready to enter the Promised Land.
This story offers enormous insight into what strategy must be followed if revolutions are to be successful. Recent history does not support the claim which says, “Give people freedom and they will fight to maintain it.” Like the exodus from Egypt, the Orange Revolution happened virtually overnight. This did not allow the people, even the leaders of the revolution themselves, the chance to adapt to the new reality. Whereas the surrounding circumstances may have changed, the people had not. It is therefore not surprising that corrupt dictators still seem attractive. The people need time to catch up with world events.
Personal revolutions are no different. Often one thinks that a change of job, home, community, spouse or country will resolve all problems. The story of the splitting of the Sea of Reeds instructs us that in order to effect permanent personal transformation for the better, a change of circumstances does not suffice. As long as one has not changed ones underlying attitude and mindset the danger of reverting back to previous negative habits is ever-present. For change to endure, a shift in circumstance must be accompanied by an adjustment of outlook and approach.