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The Wisdom of the Indirect Attack, and the Gift of the Roadblock

Shmuel Halpern


In life, as in war, we face challenges that need to be overcome strategically. It isn’t always brute force and a workhorse mentality that wins the day. Although it isn’t wise to treat a competitor as an enemy, or a colleague who passed us by for a promotion as an invader, there’s nevertheless a lot of life-wisdom within military strategy.

Consider the following words by military strategist B.H. Liddell Hart. “The eighteen major wars of modern history up to 1914, counting as one the struggle of Napoleon… embracing more than two hundred and eighty campaigns, (we find that) in only six of these campaigns… did a divisive result follow a plan of a direct strategic approach to the main army of the enemy. In strategy, the longest way round is often the shortest way home.”

The roadblocks we encounter frustrate us. We’d love to take the most direct route from where we are to where we’d like to be. We can find succor in the victories of the greatest military minds. Perhaps the roundabout route holds the key to the greatest, most enduring achievements. We’d never have considered this way, but the obstacle is pointing us here. Let’s embrace it.

This phenomenon has very deep spiritual roots. Ramchal explains that the North is the darkest part of the earth, as it is there that the sun’s rays hit us most indirectly. (Ramchal explains elsewhere why the sages focus only on one-half of the earth.)

Strangely, when it comes to the karbanos (offerings) in this week’s parshah, the Torah gives prime importance to the north. When discussing the burnt offering (olah), the Torah tells us to, “slaughter it on the north side of the altar before God.” Of all the four sides of the altar, why is the north — the dark side — singled out as being before God? And why does the burnt offering specifically need to be slaughtered on the north side?

The burnt offering represents total self-negation. While other offerings can be partially eaten by the owner, this offering is given completely to Hashem. By completely letting go, of our ownership, opinions and perspectives, we transcend our natural limitations. Standing before God, the darkness, the lack of a logical path forward, make way for the miraculous. Human power is limited; God’s power is infinite.

There are times in our lives that the path forward is obvious; the sun is shining; the streetlights are brightly lit. Then there are times that the path forward is less than obvious, or worse, completely obfuscated. True, this may limit us, but instead of our power, we get to tap into God’s power. This way, we can turn darkness, confusion, and despair, into acceptance, transcendence, and the most incredible victories.

Inspired by Ryan Holiday: The Obstacle Is The Way