The old saying, “united we stand, divided we fall,” conveys a pithy truth; if we knock others down on our path to success, it catches up with us in the long run and eventually knocks us down too. What goes around comes around and no one is immune. We can’t grow rich off other people’s misery.
It doesn’t look that way on the surface. Many wealthy people have stepped over others on their way to success. But dig a little deeper, and you will discover that they are not really successful. They might have money or fame or power, but they don’t feel successful. You can’t feel like a success on the back of another’s suffering. At the end of the day, you need to live with the fellow you see in the mirror.
Even the external success that they achieve on the backs of others, is short lived. In the long run, they too fail. If we step over someone on our way to the top, the day will come when others will step over us on their way to the top. What goes around comes around; it is only a matter of time.
The Six Day War
The Six Day War is usually portrayed as a regional and cultural conflict, but it was in fact a global conflict between two superpowers in which the Middle East was used as a pawn.
In May of 1967, the Soviets informed Anwar Sadat on a visit to Russia that Israel had massed many divisions on Syria’s border in preparation for war. This was a lie. Levi Eshkol, Israel’s prime minister, and Abba Eban, Israel’s foreign minister, offered to accompany the Soviet ambassador on a tour of the Syrian border to demonstrate the facts. The ambassador declined stating that his role was to communicate Soviet truths, not to verify them.
Russia has since admitted its purpose for telling the lie. Seeing that America was on the run in Vietnam, Russia felt the time was ripe to dial back American influence in the Middle East. They figured that with three countries attacking Israel, the outcome of the war would surely favor the Arabs. This would demonstrate the power of Soviet weaponry and the benefits of association with Russia over America.
Their strategy failed because they never anticipated Israel’s miraculous victory. But that is not the point I wish to emphasize. The point I wish to make is that they failed to care that their geopolitics would affect real people, people who would bleed real blood and lose real lives. They threw Arab and Jew into chaos just to achieve a political end. They cared nothing for the panic, anxiety, expenditure, and loss of real life. Young children would die. Mature adults would be crippled. Strapping leaders would be scarred. All to achieve a political aim.
Nasser was not all that innocent himself. Based on the Soviet report, he put the Arab world on a war footing and stirred Arab sentiment to fever pitch with his promise to annihilate Israel. But shortly after sending his army into the Sinai, Nasser discovered the Soviet ruse. He could have pulled back at that point, but he didn’t. He felt that his prestige in the Arab world would not survive a withdrawal after he had stirred up an appetite for war.
For the sake of his own prestige, he was willing to plunge four countries and countrymen into war. Soldiers and civilians would die on both sides, just to bolster Nasser’s prestige.
The Soviets and Nasser were both guilty of stepping over others on their way to glory. They never even stopped to notice the wretched people that they destroyed. The human cost never entered their equation. They failed to even notice. And when you fail to notice others, you can’t last long.
What was the result of the war? Nasser lost the very prestige he was hoping to gain and Soviet influence in the region was diminished rather than strengthened. Ultimately, Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel and the Soviet Union collapsed. In the immediacy of the moment it seemed like the Soviets got away with it, but in the fullness of time, the truism, ‘what goes around, comes around,’ prevailed.
You can’t learn from history, unless you learn history. Had the Soviets and Egyptians stopped to read the history of the ancient Israelites and Egyptians, they would have avoided the entire war.
When Jews were enslaved in Egypt, they were treated like vermin. They were made to toil, suffer, bear indignity and powerlessness. They were a wretched people serving the all-powerful. Egyptians were able to degrade the Jews because they dehumanized the Jews. To Egypt, the Jew was not worthy of life. The Jews reproduced prolifically, each family had scores of children, and Egyptians felt that for each Jew they killed, thirty more Jews will be born.
You would think that a free labor force of this size would have brought Egypt much wealth and in the short term it did just that. But in the long term, Egypt could not overcome the morality deficit. You can prevail over others, but you can never prevail over yourself. At some point, their own moral depravity caught up with them and the country imploded.
This was the meaning behind the dual aspect of the ninth plague, the plague of darkness. The Torah tells us that the plague lasted for six days. For the first three days, no man could see his brother, for the second three days, no man could stand up from under himself. Yet, for the Jews there was light.
On the face of it, this is a curious description of darkness. But when you realize that the Torah is discussing a moral darkness it makes sense. The Egyptians were in such moral darkness that they failed to see another as a brother. The Jew was inhuman to them, the Jew’s suffering was immaterial. Egyptian success was their only consideration; they failed to see the Jew as a brother.
This led to an insurmountable problem of ego. So self-consumed and narcissistic had they become, that the darkness ended up hurting them. They were unable to climb out from under themselves. Their narcissism became the mountain under which they were buried. But for the Jews, who were empathetic and compassionate, there was light.
Had the Soviets and Egyptians learned that lesson from history, they would not have been doomed to repeat history.
Now that is far as nations are concerned. What can we learn from this?
The very same lesson. When we see another in need, we must let their plight touch our hearts as if that need were our own. When we disagree with others, we must do so with respect for the other’s dignity. We can’t disparage others and expect to end up ahead. If we serve up another’s dignity on the altar of our ego, we will be next line. If we preserve our humanity and empathy, we will ultimately prevail.