Beit Midrash

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To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in honor of

עם ישראל

Temporary Victories


Rabbi Berel Wein

One of the lessons of history, especially of the history of human ideas and conflicts, is that there are few if any permanent victories. All of the victors for instance of World War II have been humbled and themselves defeated in various ways and conflicts thereafter. Victories are only temporary in the eyes of history as are empires and superpowers. The Lord mocks our pretensions of human permanence in all of its instances. Thus when Moshe and the children of Israel sing their song of victory and triumph on the banks of Yam Suf the Torah teaches us that not that this song was then sung - shar - but rather that it will yet be sung in the future - yashir. This important lesson of temporary victory has always been part of the Jewish story. The Jews who lived in Israel at the time of the First Temple thought that their sovereignty in the land was permanent. Therefore they felt free to ignore the warnings of the Torah and its prophets about the true situation of their feelings of permanence being unrealistic and false. People crave security while knowing deep down in their being that we are always living in a very insecure world. The Egypt of that particular Pharaoh was defeated at Yam Suf. That Pharaoh and his hordes would never reappear on the Jewish scene. But Egypt, for example, would reappear in different forms throughout Jewish history. A pagan Hellenist Egypt, an equally pagan Roman Egypt, a Moslem Egypt, a Mameluke Egypt, an Ottoman Egypt, a British Egypt, a Nasser Egypt, a Sadat Egypt, a Mubarak Egypt all would arise and continue the struggle with the people and Land of Israel. All of them have been defeated but nevertheless it is clear that there are no permanent victories.

There are however permanent defeats. Neither the empires of Alexander the Great nor of Rome will ever return again to power or existence. I think that it is safe to say that England will never again own India or Hong Kong. Russia still exists but the Soviet Union lies irretrievably on the ash heap of history. No American thinks that it would be wise to control Vietnam. There are no real comebacks in history. Events may morph one into another but the original strength and power once lost never returns in any real historical sense. The ancient languages, Assyrian, Babylonian, Classical Greek, Latin, etc. all are now "dead" languages hardly even part of any important curriculum of what was once considered a classical and essential education. The Roman Catholic Church after almost millennia of use has been forced to give up insisting that Latin be used as the language of its rituals. This change reflects in my opinion not so much the vaunted modernization of the Church as perhaps it does the recognition that Latin is never going to return to be a spoken or written language in any sort of general or popular use. Even long accepted ideas and philosophies that ruled the world for centuries are no longer considered relevant or vital. There are very few true believers in Aristotle left amongst us. All defeats can contain a degree of finality with them.

The Jewish people and its State of Israel is the exception to this rule promulgated in the previous paragraph. Hebrew is certainly not a "dead" language. It is the only language of the ancient Middle East that has survived and is spoken by millions today. The Jewish people have returned to their homeland after an absence of power and sovereignty that lasted for almost two thousand years. Our victories may not be permanent but neither are our defeats. We are the comeback kids of history. I feel that a large part of the enmity directed against us as Jews and the State of Israel particularly in today’s mean and bigoted world is because the current scenario of there being a Jewish state in the Land of Israel is simply historically unacceptable. It flies in the face of the commonly accepted rule that there are no comebacks allowed by history. But here we are, Hebrew and all. We are witness to the fact that our military victories over the past sixty plus years, impressive as they have been are not permanent. Each victory granted us a further temporary lull in the fierce struggle for our existence here in the land of our fathers and mothers. But each victory also illustrated for all to see that our defeats were also not permanent and the resilience of the Jewish people relative to all adversities remains intact and alive. The torah advises us that we will yet achieve permanent victory and Moshe will sing to us again, this time in finality and security. May that be soon and in our days.
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