Victories and Triumphs
Victories and triumphs inevitably are followed by letdowns, frustrations
and sometimes even disappointments. The high point of the story of the
Exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt is recorded in this week’s parsha
with the eternal song of Moshe and Israel at the Reed Sea.
The exultation of Israel at seeing its hated oppressors destroyed at its
feet knew no bounds. It is as though its wildest dreams of success and
achievement were now fulfilled and realized. However, almost immediatel
the people of Israel, faced with the problems of the real world which
seemingly never disappear no matter how great the previous euphoria may
have been, turn sullen and rebellious.
Food, water, shelter all are lacking. And even when Moshe provides for
them the necessary miracles that are required for minimum sustenance in
the desert of Sinai, their mood of foreboding and pessimism is not easily
And this mood is heightened by the sudden unprovoked attack of Amalek
against the people of Israel. Again, Amalek is defeated by Yehoshua and
Moshe but the mere fact that such an attack occurred so soon after the
events of the Exodus has a disheartening effect upon the people.
The moment of absolute physical triumph is not to be repeated again in the
story of Israel in the Sinai desert. But physically speaking, the
experience of the desert of Sinai will hardly be a thrilling one for
Israel. So it is with all human and national victories. Once the euphoria
settles down, the problems and frustrations begin.
In relating the miracle of the sweetening of the waters at Marah, the
Torah teaches us that “there did the Lord place before them laws and
justice and there did He test them.” There are many interpretations in
Midrash, Talmud and rabbinic literature as to what those “laws and
justice” actually were.
But it is certainly correct to say that the main “laws and justice” that
were taught to Israel at Marah was that the problems of life go on even
after miraculous victories and great achievements. Victories bring high if
sometimes unrealistic expectations. Measured realistic response and
realistic assessments are necessary in order to harvest the fruits of such
The less grandiose our expectations are the less painful our
disappointments become. The generation of the descendants of those who
left Egypt, who were now accustomed to the grueling challenges of the
desert and who had not shared in the euphoria of the destruction of the
Egyptian oppressor, were much better equipped to deal with the realities
entailed in conquering the Land of Israel and establishing Jewish
sovereignty and society there.
Our times have also witnessed great and unforeseen accomplishments here in
Israel. But because of that very success, we are often given over to
disappointment and frustration at the current unsolved problems that still
face us. We would all wish to sing a great song of exultation and triumph
over our enemies and problems.
With God’s help we may yet be able to do so. Yet until then we would be
wise to attempt to deal with our realities and problems in a moderate,
practical and wise fashion.
Rabbi Berel Wein