Is Pat Robertson right? Did G-d punish Sharon?

From Rabbi Hillel Goldberg, Intermountain Jewish News, Denver, CO

It’s nothing personal. The Rev. Pat Robertson is friends with Ariel Sharon. He prayed with the prime minister last year. But facts are facts and G-d is G-d. The prime minister has been struck down by G-d for dividing the Biblical land, giving the Gaza Strip to the Palestinians.

So believes — and says — Pat Robertson.

Many find this shocking.

I do, too, but for reasons that perhaps are different from what I take to be the common reaction, which is: Robertson is not much different from the ayatollahs.

This means, I assume, that Robertson’s G-d is a cruel one.

It also means, I assume, that Robertson is presumptuous in the extreme. After all, one could just as plausibly argue that Sharon, at 5’7″ and 120 pounds overweight, should have collapsed of heart failure a long time ago, but G-d kept him active long enough to give the Gaza away — an argument just the opposite of Robertson’s.

Robertson has his Jewish counterparts — the pulsa de-nura crowd. Aramaic for “lashes of fire,” a pulsa de-nura was put on Sharon last July by a few opponents of the Gaza withdrawal. Here’s what they have to say now: “I take full responsibility for what happened [i.e., Sharon’s stroke].”

That’s Baruch Ben-Yosef speaking to the Jerusalem Post. “Our pula de-nura kicked in. Sharon said his ancestors lived until they were over 100 years old, but we got him with the pulsa de-nura.”

It is easy enough to dismiss Ben-Yosef’s form of idolatry or Robertson’s presumptuousness. In Robertson’s case, however, it is only his presumptuousness that I find shocking. He pretends to know what G-d is thinking. Prophecy, he forgot, ended with Zechariah some 2,500 years ago.

In another way, though, Robertson utters a simple truth, which his crude logic makes easy to ignore. This truth is a basic one. It is the foundation of the Hebrew Bible and indeed of Judaism: G-d cares about humanity and intervenes in human affairs, of both the individual and the community.

Let’s go back to the period of the Prophets. G-d made His will known definitively, sometimes only for a generation and sometimes for all generations — these are the Prophets who occupy the second segment of the the Hebrew Bible, the Tanakh. The “n” in Tanakh stands for “Nevi’im” or Prophets.

The great teachings of Isaiah and Amos on justice, for example, are teachings in G-d name, words and voice — the Prophets were the vehicle of His word. Likewise, Isaiah’s teachings on the reason for the destruction of the First Temple and the dispersion and suffering of the Jewish community are a definitive account of G-d’s intentions and actions.

When the period of prophecy ended, however, certainty about the content of G-d’s communications and actions for the community, and for individuals, ceased. The reality of His caring and concern did not.

In the period of the Prophets, G-d spoke to man. Afterwards, man speaks to G-d, primarily through prayer (but not exclusively; any person may talk to G-d in his own language and words).

When man speaks to G-d, the level of certainty is removed. Does G-d assent to what I say or ask? I can never know for sure, but that G-d hears, cares and responds is true. Even after the fact, when, for example, G-d has not answered a prayer for the health of a relative, may I say with certainty that G-d did not assent to what I said or asked? No, I cannot. There is no certainty.

On this, Robertson is foolish and off base.

But, his simplicities removed, he highlights a fundamental theological truth, at least of Judaism: G-d listens. G-d intervenes. G-d cares. G-d responds to what we do. It is lonely, this post-Prophetic period, in which we can never be be certain of the nature of G-d’s response to our prayers and acts. But only up to a point. The knowledge that G-d is there, and that He cares, even if we do not always understand how, assuages that loneliness and constitutes a benefit of the religious quest. So, did G-d punish Ariel Sharon? Maybe. Maybe not. Or maybe there is a third alternative.

G-d’s relationship with His creatures is impossible to ascertain with certainty, even on the holiest of days, Yom Kippur. But this we know:

G-d has a relationship with Ariel Sharon, now and always, as he does with each and every one of us.

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13 Responses

  1. Harry Maryles says:

    Excellent editorial by Rabbi Hillel Goldberg. The problem is not with Pat Robinson. It is within us. It is the Pulsa Denura people; it is the type of rhetoric uttered by certain RW Religious zioinst rabbis that inspire the Yigal Amirs of the world. For more, see my blog Emes Ve-Emunah at:


  2. e. ross says:

    I was always taught to believe that HaShem treats us “mida k’neged mida”.

    Sharon’s greatest sin was the arogance of believing that he will live to be a hundred, that he is the one who decides what is right, and of course not believing that even HaShem has power over him.

    The power of the cries of the Gush expelees cried to HaShem to judge. He did, and Sharon must somewhere in his comotose soul, now know that he sinned on all counts.

  3. James Sprunger says:

    I would sadden me to think that G-d no longer spoke to His people.
    The author of the article seems to reject that possibility. Of course
    Dr. Robertson was not prophesying when he spoke of the Prime Minister.
    He had in fact been encouraging prayer for him. His reference to the land
    was based upon Joel 3. G-d will enter into judgment over His people-and over
    His land. I am not saying G-d punished Mr. Sharon, but the scriptural
    possibility should cause the leaders of the nation of Israel to reflect.
    I will pray that G-d does grant wisdom to all those in authority especially with
    the Hamas victory in the Paletinian elections.

  4. Peter S. says:

    I trust in G-D , in my mind Ariel Sharon sinned , his arrogance , the cries of the victims
    from Gush , have been heard . As for judging whether Ariel Sharon is paying the price for his sins , I cannot say . But I know that HaShem looks after Israel , is not the building on Temple Mount an abomination .

  5. Jerel Bartlett says:

    The prophets may have ended 2500 years ago, but the prophecy lives on. Pat Robertson’s utilizing of the prophecy is harsh to say that Sharon was struck down. Whether he was or was not matters not. The harsh reality is Israel is crumbling apart. What area is to be given away next?… Galilee and Samaria for starters. In 12 months…..West Bank, Gaza, Galilee, Samaria. At this rate, Israel will be gone in a few years. This is the prophecy !!! Wake up a smell the roses. Get your heads out of the sand !!! But you will not. This is the prophecy Pat Robertson is quoting !!! Read the Bible yourself. Pat did.

  6. Steve Brizel says:

    Wonderful and important column. Too many of us , regardless of hashkafic label, tend to indulge in theodic-based comments about which Chazal had a pithy and very sharp statement about those who purport to speak in prophetic terminology.

  7. Nancy Baumann says:

    In Tanakh Elohim promises His word will NOT return void but will accomplish all He intends for it to accomplish. History has born with painful memory the past prophecies as true with future ones yet to come. Why is it hard for the people out there to understand this? Any serious believer in the Biblical scriptures finds it hard for those not familiar, or unable to ascent to this perspective as anything but not yet awakened from their slumber which I fear is soon to be time to wake up to reverie!! Why are we even discussing this as other more weighty matters seem to be pressing into us daily. Can a good tree bring forth bad fruit? Can a bad tree bring forth good fruit? A stroke has disabled the noble leader of Israel that , if left to his own pressures and outside influences, would have done more “giving away”…HaShem, the compassionate one, has in His mercy allowed no more evil to be done via this once strong man who was pressured beyond our understanding in behalf of his people whom I am convinced he loved dearly. May we all have mercy on his behalf and come to the place where no matter what we can say we too have failed but a righteous man may fall seven times but he will get up again…..

  8. Jo Nell Pegues says:

    We can sum up all the rhetoric by a quote from the Holy Bible, God talking to Abraham, “Leave your country(Ur of the Chaldees), your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will BLESS those who BLESS you, and whoerver CURSES you I will CURSE; and all peoples on earth wil be blessed through you.” Gods’ word is true-much more solid than mans’ opinion!!

  9. R.MILLER says:

    Malachi was the last Prophet, not Zecharia.

  10. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    Rabbi Hillel Goldberg has made a very perceptive statement. We know that G-d cares about human affairs and is Master of history. We do not necessarily know how to interpret either current events or past prophecies in terms of what actions G-d specifically wants. However He makes His will happen, whether we like it or not, whether we know it or not. The other point which is rather striking in these days is that a medium like this blog, expressing Jewish thought on contemporary matters, is being read by non-Jews as well. The time will come when, as the prophets have written, Israel and many non-Jews will join together to do Hashem’s will.

  11. Modester Magaragoma says:

    I do not agree with Pat Robertson. If Hashem had not wanted Ariel Sharon to devide Gaza He would have struck him down before it happened. Otherwise whats the point of striking him after the deed if it was against His will. Hashem does not play games with His people – His will comes first. If we are going to agree with Pat Robertson what we are actually saying is that Hashem was powerless to stop Ariel Sharon from doing that which He was against. With Hashem everything happens for a (good)reason.

  12. Menachem Lipkin says:

    Ariel Sharon is obese and 78 years old. One need look no further than that to understand why he was “struck down”. Nobody alive today knows the “mind” of God and to claim that one does is nothing short of heresy. We don’t know the reason for Katrina, or the Indian earthquake, or Sharon’s illness. When bad things happen we are told to introspect and look at our midos and imperfections, but we have no business blaming these things on others. Ariel Sharon has a treasure chest of Z’chuyot that many “frum” Jews can only envy. We have no way of knowing if even the disengagement was “wrong” in God’s eyes or part of His plan. Maybe God was “annoyed” at us for settling Gaza with only 8000 Jews after 38 years! That’s pretty pathetic by any measure. Who knows? I don’t, you don’t, and Pat Robertson doesn’t.

  1. January 25, 2006

    A Brand Plucked From the Fire…

    Plenty has been written about Pat Robertson’s suggestion that “Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s stroke was divine retribution for the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.” Rabbi Hillel Goldberg, guest posting at Cross-Currents, s…

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