web analytics
October 21, 2014 / 27 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance
Judaism
Sponsored Post
Meir Panim with Soldiers 5774 Roundup: Year of Relief and Service for Israel’s Needy

Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.



Home » Judaism » Parsha »

Parshat Mishpatim

Hertzberg-012414

Though the ancient Greek king of Epirus is not familiar to most people, he has bequeathed us the concept of the Pyrrhic victory. In 280 BCE Pyrrhus defeated the Romans at the battle of Heraclea. However, despite his military victory, Pyrrhus realized that the high level of casualties he suffered was unsustainable. Although the Romans suffered greatly as well, they were in a much better position to replace their lost troops. When he realized it, Pyrrhus uttered to those near him, “One more such victory and we will be totally ruined.” A Pyrrhic victory is one  whose benefit is fleeting and in the end ruins the victor.

One of history’s most pronounced examples of such a victory is Napoleon’s invasion of Russia and conquest of Moscow. In June 1812 Napoleon invaded Russia in response to Czar Alexander I’s change in policy toward Great Britain. Napoleon’s Grande Armee originally numbered somewhere between 400,000 to 600,000 soldiers. The Russian army kept moving backward avoiding the great pitched battle Napoleon so desperately wanted. Finally, on September 7, 1812 the French and Russian armies confronted each other at Borodino. By this time the French had already lost many soldiers. The battle proved to be horrific in terms of human cost – Napoleon lost between 30,000 and 40,000 men. By day’s end, however, Napoleon was victorious.

He marched to Moscow unopposed, entering the city on September 14 and expecting the Czar to surrender forthwith. But to his surprise he found a near-empty city. Later that night the city was set on fire, further hurting Napoleon’s army. While retreating, the Russians had destroyed supplies, and now with much of Moscow burning, the French had little shelter to go with their little food. Napoleon waited a month for a surrender that was never offered. Napoleon finally abandoned Moscow in mid-October and began the journey back to France. By the time his once great army returned home, Napoleon had fewer than 50,000 soldiers. The cost of his victory at Borodino and conquest of Moscow was his army and reputation. Although Napoleon remained in power for several more years, his power had been checked. Following his initial victories in Russia, it was only a matter of time before he was defeated.

The Baalei Mussar constantly warn against unsustainable Pyrrhic victories. It is not about doing the great deed or achieving high standing. It is about sustaining these gains. If such gains are not reinforced, they will not only be ephemeral but will ultimately cause more harm than good as the person who achieved them will eventually fall even further than before.

The Torah, toward the end of this week’s Parsha, describes (24:12) how Moshe ascended the mountain to receive the Torah. It states: “And G-d said to Moshe: Ascend to Me on the mountain and be there and I will give you the stone tablets…” Rashi explains that the words “be there” allude to the forty days that Moshe would spend on the mountain learning. The Seforno also explains that the words “be there” imply that Moshe would be there for a substantial amount of time.

The Kotsker Rebbe, however, sees an additional command hidden in these words. In a certain sense, the Kotsker argues, climbing mountains is easy. Although a mountain climber must exert much effort to succeed in his quest, the mere fact that he has a concrete goal provides the motivation for him to complete his task. But staying on the mountain, beginning a new life in the mountain environment is a different story altogether. Sustaining the heights reached is far more difficult. What is true for physical mountain climbing is true for climbing the mountain of avodat Hashem and spirituality as well. Attaining certain heights and achieving specific goals is relatively easy and doable. The real test is sustaining these gains and building upon them. G-d, accordingly, is encouraging Moshe to not just focus on reaching the top of the spiritual mountain but remaining there as well, thus fully capitalizing on his gains.

The Malbim makes a similar point in his commentary on Tehillim chapter 24. The verse asks: “Who will ascend the mountain of G-d? And who will stand in His holy place?” The Malbim explains that the question “Who will ascend the mountain of G-d?” refers to a person who momentarily reaches spiritual heights. The question “Who will stand in His holy place?” refers to a person who will maintain these spiritual heights permanently. Both the Kotsker and the Malbim underscore the importance of sustaining gains and avoiding spiritual Pyrrhic victories. A spiritual experience that is not sustained will often cause more spiritual damage in the long-run.

Leaders must bear this lesson in mind. Victories and successes are important. But sustaining these successes is even more important. Achieving unsustainable victories is often a waste of resources and effort. Understanding this will alert leaders to pay attention to the often precarious gains achieved and redouble their focus to ensure that these gains become permanent. It is good advice to remember the words of General David Patraeus in his report to Congress regarding the “Surge” in Iraq. He opined that the initial gains were both “fragile and reversible.” Only by realizing the fragile and reversible nature of gains can leaders transform them into the new permanent landscape.

About the Author: Rabbi Dr. David Hertzberg is the principal of the Yeshivah of Flatbush Middle Division and is an adjunct assistant professor of History at Touro College.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Parshat Mishpatim”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Facebook post from man believed to be Canadian convert to Islam who rammed soldiers with his car in possible terrorist attack, Oct. 20, 2014.
‘Radicalized’ Convert to Islam Attempted to Murder Canadian Soldiers [video]
Latest Judaism Stories
God-and the world

The creation of the world is described twice. Each description serves a unique purpose.

Questions-Answers-logo

Question: I recently loaned money to a friend who has been able to repay only part of it. This was an interest-free loan. We exchanged a signed IOU, not a proper shtar with witnesses, since I have always trusted her integrity and only wanted a document that confirms what was loaned and what was repaid. Now that shemittah is approaching, what should I do? Should I forgive the loan? And if my friend is not able to repay it, may I deduct the unpaid money from my ma’aser requirement?

Name Withheld

Lessons-in-Emunah-new

To the surprise of our protectzia-invested acquaintances, my family has thrived in our daled amos without that amenity, b’ezras Hashem.

Business-Halacha-logo

Shimon started adjusting the branches on the roof. In doing so, a branch fell off the other side of the car and hit the side-view mirror, cracking it.

I, the one who is housed inside this body, am completely and utterly spiritual.

Should we sit in the sukkah on a day that may be the eighth day when we are not commanded to sit in the sukkah at all?

For Appearance’s Sake
‘Shammai Did Not Follow Their Own Ruling’
(Yevamos 13b 14a)

If one hurts another human being, God is hurt; if one brings joy to another, God is more joyous.

I’m grateful to Hashem for everything; Just the same, I’d love a joyous Yom Tov without aggravation.

Bereshit: Life includes hard choices that challenge our decisions, leaving lingering complications.

Rabbi Fohrman:” Great evils are often wrought by those who are blithely unaware of the power they wield.”

The emphasis on choice, freedom and responsibility is a most distinctive features of Jewish thought.

The Torah emphasizes the joy of Sukkot, for after a season of labor, we celebrate our prosperity.

The encounter with the timeless stability of the divine occurs within the Sukkot.

Hashem created all human beings and it should sadden us when Hashem, their Father, does not see nachas from them.

More Articles from Rabbi David Hertzberg
Hertzberg-101014-Oval-Office

Realizing that his death was immanent and he had only a few more moments, Moshe focuses on doing the most important thing: he runs to Bnei Yisrael and blesses them.

Hertzberg-092614

Perhaps the most important leadership lesson Elkana taught us is to never underestimate the difference a single person can make.

Eisenhower understood that motivated men will fight much harder and longer than unmotivated men.

When Germany invaded neutral Belgium on August 4, England declared war on Germany. Thus, by the end of the first week of August all the major powers of Europe were at war.

Although famous for his smile, Ike Eisenhower actually harbored a volcanic temper that he worked arduously to control.

Why did we merit exiting the gas chamber alive when so many others did not?

Without a plan of action, a leader will never be able to lead his followers anywhere, no matter how important the destination or lofty the goal.

Like Dempsey and Gates, leaders must always be cognizant of the costs involved in their decisions – even when the costs are less than human life

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/parshat-mishpatim-3/2014/01/24/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: