(photo credit: Courtesy)
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 the victors
of World War II, for instance, 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 its instances.
Thus when Moses and the Children
of Israel sing their song of victory and triumph on the banks of the Red Sea,
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 that we are living in a very insecure world. The Egypt of that particular
Pharaoh was defeated at the Red Sea. 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 Muslim 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 the Land of Israel. All of them
have been defeated, but nevertheless it is clear that there are no permanent
There are, however, permanent defeats. Neither the empires of
Alexander the Great nor of Rome will ever return again to power or
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 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
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 among 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. 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 2,000 years. Our victories may not
be permanent, but neither are our defeats. We are the comeback kids of
I feel that a large part of the enmity directed against us as
Jews and the State of Israel in today’s mean and bigoted world is because the
current scenario of there being a Jewish state in the Land of Israel is
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 60
plus years, impressive as they have been, are not permanent.
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
The Torah advises us that we will yet achieve permanent victory
and Moses will sing to us again, this time in finality and security. May that be
soon and in our days.