Whose Memory is a Blessing?
Whoever the “Letters” editor of Hamodia may be, I prefer to think that he/she is more clever than obtuse. It is the only way I could understand the reaction to a reader other than wimpy silliness.
The reader took offense at some reference in the paper’s coverage of the passing of Ariel Sharon. Apparently, the article’s author lost all of his religious bearings, and made reference to the former Prime Minister as z”l – of blessed memory.
What could this author have been thinking? We know that Sharon made no pretense of halachic observance. If he was not frum, there should be no reason why we should find any berachah in his remembrance at all! Therefore, the reader took Hamodia to task: “Even though the writer attempts to describe him as a very proud Jew, it seems to be quite irrelevant when the proud one is actually not practicing what he’s proud of. Hamodia, being an orthodox paper with Torah values should of (sic) not honoured an unorthodox person with this title.”
The reader has a point. When Sharon ignored orders and led his troops across the Suez Canal within striking distance of Cairo, thereby singlehandedly turning the course of the Yom Kippur War back in favor of Israel, he could not have been acting as a proud Jew. Chances are, he was just in the mood for some treif pizza, and Cairo seemed like a good place to pick it up.
When he saved the life of a young soldier whom others had given up as too seriously wounded to warrant further care, there could not have been any Jewish pride in that. Probably, he wasn’t thinking at all, which we know to be the way all non-observant Jews live their silly and useless lives. (The soldier later became a rav and a leader of the settler movement. It may have been R. Yoel ben Nun, who took strong issue with Sharon in later years, but remained grateful to him for saving his life. Our audience can corroborate or correct this.)
Yes, the Hamodia reader has a point. It is not a point, however, that is consistent with Chazal, who repeatedly find merit in the sinners of Israel, including the most extreme examples of transgression. (I distinctly remember a Hebrew class offered as enrichment to aspiring rabbonim in my yeshiva. It was taught by Rabbi Yisroel Shurin z”l, a son-in-law of R. Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l, who taught the language at City College. R Shurin told us about an adam gadol whose name I forgot, who commented about Eliezer Ben-Yehudah, often referred to as the Father of Modern Hebrew. Ben-Yehudah was notoriously ill-disposed towards halachic observance, but that did not deter this luminary from stating, “If HKBH decides to give Ben-Yehudah olam habo for what he did for the Hebrew language, I for one will not protest!”)
The gemara tells us (Moed Katan 28B) that Achav (not one of our most observant or beloved kings) merited a “great mourning in Yerushalayim (Melachim I 22:36)” because he had himself propped up in his chariot when he was mortally wounded so as not to demoralize his troops. Sharon, it would seem to me, did much better than that. He turned defeat into victory, and prevented the demoralizing of the entire country.
Elsewhere, Chazal find merit in the life of Achav’s father, Omri, because he added one additional city to Israel. Sharon added many cities to Yehudah and Shomron, that today – even after he presided over the expulsion – are home to several hundred thousand Jews. (Interestingly, one of Sharon’s sons is named Omri.) Even if a negotiated peace is reached with the Palestinians some day, at least some of those cities will remain.
A video that recently surfaced of Sharon addressing the frum kids of Camp Sdei Chemed International in the late 90’s had him openly declaring that he was not observant. Yet, he spoke to his young audience as if they were the vanguard and guarantors of a Jewish future in the land of Israel. If I am not mistaken, I detected real pride in his voice when he spoke to them in a shul, sporting a yarmulke he wore out of respect.
Hamodia responded to the criticism with the following: “It was indeed an oversight on our part, and we regret the error.” I hope that those words were meant tongue in cheek. Rather than see the person who penned those words as prostrating himself before misplaced frumkeit, I would guess that the author inserted the “z”l” intentionally (as he should), prepared all along to offer a lame apology if the natives got restless.
As for me, I will continue to find blessing in the memory of even the poshei Yisrael of a previous generation who devoted their lives to creating the Jewish State.