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.

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25 Responses

  1. Nachum says:

    I’m sure Sharon saved many people’s lives, both directly and indirectly, but I think the settler leader you’re thinking of is Ya’akov “Ketzaleh” Katz.

    Can you cite the pasuk about Achav again? There is no perek 26 in Melachim Aleph.

    Yotam is also a king described (in Divrei HaYamim) as being pretty bad, but because he added cities in Yehuda and housing in Yerushalayim, he gets bumped up into the “good” category.

    Ben-Yehuda lived down the block from R’ Kook and used to consult him regularly on language questions. At one such meeting, R’ Kook said, out of the blue, “Eliezer, maybe it’s time you did teshuva,” and Ben-Yehuda answered, “Maybe.” He died later that day. R’ Kook said that that one “maybe” got him into shamayim. Of course, I’m sure R’ Kook would agree with your story- that he had a lot more going for him as well.

    This isn’t the first time he’s done it, but Friday night Bibi and his wife walked home from the shul in Davos (two kilometers), because that’s what a Jew does. Yesh she koneh olamo…

  2. Howard Tzvi says:

    Hamodia had no issue running adds from the EJF and the “New Jewish Phonebook” but a “za’l” was deemed apology worthy?

  3. Dr. E says:

    The letter is typical of many in the community who are inclined to make “blog-like comments”. Such reactions have become predictable and cliche in those circles. They represent the fact that so much emotional and rhetorical capital has been placed on “being frum” (i.e. externally and in public behavior) that there is no tolerance for anyone else.

    It is sort of telling that Sharon’s lack of observance was pointed out as his biographical flaw, with no mention of Gush Katif as his primary failure. But, I guess the letter writer is the recipient of insight from the Divine as to how Sharon’s legacy is being reckoned.

  4. c-l,c says:

    Sharon was arguably the greatest field general of the second half of the 20th century,and he devoted his talents to his country.

    Also to add to his credit,was as a youth in the Haganah ,during the astonishing”hunting season ” when the haganah would (literally mesirah of the worst form) uncover and hand over Etzel and Lechi members to the british,he refused to take part.

    BUT was he even actually jewish?
    His father, Scheinerman, showed up in Palestine, with a dubious russian peasant woman from area that was hardly jewish!
    His lineage was in such doubt,that Shlomo Goren offered ,privately,to convert him.

    Maybe it was to the better,for he seemed to be without the neurotic hangups that the bulk of secularizing Israelis suffered!

    “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.”

    The adam gadol was Rav Sonnefeld, and what he said actually was
    ” That ,however, is the business of heaven.For us ,he is defined as a Rasha,whom we are obliged and commanded to militantly combat “,and he would conclude his name with ‘Shem rasha yirkov’.

    IIRC within his still unpublished memoirs,there’s a private letter dated 1959 ! , from Sharon to Ben Gurion,in which he had written that:

    From a professional officers’ standpoint the 3 year draft ,is a poor use of resources.
    Better to have 4 or 5 month ‘Giyus’,then move most over to ‘milu’im ‘ give them advanced training and send them home,and allocate the rest of the budget to a career officer corp. and tech.

    Ben Gurion chose to ignore (though personally he was an early Sharon patron), as he and the nascent establishment had a supremely different “purpose” for the 3 year draft

    Imagine , how different it would have been had he been heeded(,remember, females don’t serve in miluim).

    Rabbi Shmuel Tal, formerly Rosh Yeshiva of Torat HaChaim yeshiva in Gaza [translated]
    “The dati public is enthused by the fact that there are many minor officers in the army who are religious. They don’t understand that the secularists don’t care if the religious soldiers do all the dirty work. To the contrary. But when it comes to leading the army, they’ll never allow a religious soldier to advance unless he out-and-out adopts the secularist viewpoint. And that’s the reason why whenever you see someone advancing significantly, he may be considered one of the Torah’s enemies, who are fated to hold leadership positions. And the same is true for the media, academia, and judicial systems. The more the religious youngster succeeds in integrating within the system he’s chosen, the more ambitious he becomes to advance further, and usually he’s forced to pay the price for such ‘integration’.

    “A large sector within the dati camp sanctifies secular culture as a means of ‘broadening their horizons.’ Our youth study the secular culture; they think highly of secular artists and thinkers, even when those artists are apostates, and anti-Semites. It’s come to the point that for many high school students, an IDF general is valued more than the Chazon Ish or Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach.”

    So be tolerant of some counterbalance!

    As per the letter writer ,to paraphrase Moshe Dayan(alluding to Sharon) :It’s better to have wild steeds that need on occasion to be reined in ,than plodding old hacks

  5. Charlie Hall says:

    Even Elisha Ben Avuyah was honored by having a mishnah recorded for posterity in his name.

  6. Educator says:

    What a contrast between the generosity of spirit in this posting, and the lack of same in the previous one…..

  7. SA says:

    I’ve read somewhere (no recollection where) that one reason we don’t dare “pull the plug” on someone in a vegetative state is because when a person is in that state his neshama is undergoing purification.

    During the long years of Sharon’s coma, I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps someone who did so much good for the Jewish people and then near the end of his life made such a major and tragic mistake was being redeemed in this fashion. If there’s any truth to this, then the z”l was certainly earned, both in his life and in his death.

  8. Jewish Observer says:

    z”l colloquially is the hebrew equivalent of “the late”. If we are to start taking these phrases so literally, should we also confirm that a rabbi is truly a genius before calling him “HaGaon”?

  9. Jewish Observer says:

    “I hope that those words were meant tongue in cheek” –

    – Rav Adlerstein, given your intelligence I am sure your own words were 🙂

  10. DerekS says:

    Additionally as I understand, it could also be stated that Ariel Sharon owned a building in the Rova Muslami that has been used for decades to house yeshiva students of Ateret Cohanim. As a Marbitz Torah under extremely difficult circumstances, doesn’t that also warrant him at least the kind of z”l given to ganovim who donate to mosdos?

  11. Shades of Gray says:

    Perhaps ע״ה would have been the safe way for the Hamodia writer to go. That honorific is nothing to sneeze at, as Moshe Rabbeinu is so referred to in the Ani Maamins. And even those who have an issue with an honorific popularly associated with Torah observance would certainly have no problem with wishing anyone the peace of an ordinary person. Another honorific that can bedevil people is the middle letter in זצ״ל, as in “Who is a Tzadik?”.

  12. c-l,c says:

    Dr. E,

    Might it be conceivable that some take Judaism as seriously as it was intended?
    Try a different milieu,you will accost them with greater frequency.
    And they have difficulty referencing Gaza Withdrawal ,or for that matter the settling of Gaza in the present era,in the Bible?

  13. Moshe says:

    ספר חסידים (מרגליות) סימן תשמו

    ואשר אמרו על חרבונא זכור לטוב לפי שאם אדם מדבר בשבח צדיקים בין יהודים בין גוים כגון אותו פלוני עשה לישראל אותה טובה יאמר ז”ל, אדם כשנפטר לעולמו כשמזכירים שמו אין אומרים ז”ל אלא א”כ יודעים בו שכל מעשיו לשמים, שהרי על אותו שלא מצאו בו אלא דבר אחד אמרו ושם רשעים ירקב ומזכירים אותו לגנאי כגון אותן שלא רצו ללמד מעשה הקטורת כדאיתא ביומא אבל כשמזכירים דברי תורה שאמר או זכות אין רשאין להזכירו לגנאי אלא לשבח.

    So if the point of the write-up in Hamodia was a one-sided obit (as this piece is), you’re right, but if it was meant to be a full bio, it would seem that the letter writer is indeed correct.

    [YA – It depends what R Yehudah HaChasid meant in that second line. My first impression was that when mentioning the name of someone deceased NOT in the context of looking at his life at all, but in unrelated conversation, we would not attach the honorific unless his entire life was worthy of it. When inventorying a person’s contributions, whether in a one-sided or full bio, we would use the z”l if there was some worthwhile achievement to merit it. If that is the case, the letter was wrong regardless of the nature of the original article. In any event, I know you not to be naive enough to believe that the letter writer had the Sefer Chasidim in mind, rather than the knee-jerk expression of animus to the “others.”]

  14. Moshe says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein Shlit”a,

    I’m not sure I share that impression – I don’t think we find z”l attached to any of the reshaim with positive achievement except in the context of a specific good deed.

    I completely agree that the letter writer likely did not have Sefer Chassidim in mind, but at the same time I think there is room for a hergesh that “zichrono livrachah” should be reserved for people after whom you or I would have no reservations naming our children (as per Yoma 38b vis-a-vis the import of the reverse of “Zecher Tzaddik Livrachah”). I have much respect, even awe, for Ariel Sharon’s tremendous accomplishments (and quite a bit of anger over other things), but just as I wouldn’t name a child Achav or Omri, I wouldn’t name a child for Ariel Sharon either.

  15. Raymond says:

    I am going to have to mostly disagree on this one. For one thing, I do think that that honorary abbreviation should be reserved for those who at least make a concerted effort to live as an Orthodox Jew. On the other hand, whether or not he was a religious man, I really think is between him and G-d. In other words, let G-d be the judge of whether he is worthy of such an honor, but meanwhile, we with our limited level of awareness, should only give such an honor to those who appear at least to us to be living a Torah lifestyle.

    If truth be told, though, the biggest problem that I have with Ariel Sharon is not his level of religious observance, because, as I said, that is a personal matter between him and G-d. What I DO object to about him, was that horrible move he made that caused Gush Katif and some areas in Sumeria to be Judenrein. Even our hostile Arab neighbors did not ever get this far in their attempts to engage in ethnic cleansing against our people in our own Jewish land. Not only did that set a terrible precedent for future expulsions of Jews from our own land, but it also vastly increased the mortal danger that major populations of Jews are now subjected to, thanks to him.

    When he was purely a military man, he was a genius and a hero, but when he turned to politics, it was as if he were going out of his way to undo whatever good he did as a military commander. And so, even on this basis, I do not think he deserves to have us go out of our way to honor his memory.

  16. Steve Brizel says:

    Ariel Sharon ZL will be always be recognized as a great general on the level of George Patton. History will ultimately render its judgment on his various roles in Israeli politics.

  17. Shahar says:

    In this regard, it is also worthy to pay attention to Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau’s obituary in the Israeli press, published after Sharon’s passing: he notes that on the week prior to his hospitalization, on the eve of Shabbat, Sharon z”l called him and requested him to make time for a meeting the following week. The purpose of the meeting was to strengthen Jewish tradition (“moreshet yahadut”) among Israeli youth and work on ways to bring the Jewish people in Israel and the Gola closer together. That meeting, Rabbi Lau notes, never came to be, but gave us a glimpse into the mindset of Sharon just before he parted ways with Am Israel. May the memory of a Jewish hero be blessed.

  18. Ss says:

    Regardless of the merits – and I agree with you on that score – once it used “zl” Hamodia would have been better served by not printing the letter or printing it but not apologizing regardless of the “natives”. But then that would have required common sense and decency which unfortunately is so sorely lacking these days.

  19. cvmay says:

    Is it possible to stop playing the Almighty Judge and allow Hashem and his heavenly court to decide who and what value every individual has?

    Zionist, Anti-Zionist, Yeshivish, Modern, Chassidish, YU, Charedi-lite, Netrai Karta, Working Frum, Askan, Hebraist, Left or Right wing, or a Hirshean….are all nonsense labels that mean nothing and are valueless.

    Let us spend time being “Mekadesh Shem Shamayim” in our own sphere of life .

  20. Bob Miller says:

    We need to be able to recognize both positive and negative accomplishments appropriately and (usually) not to ignore one type or the other.

  21. Dave says:

    Personally, I think the fuss was highly misplaced. I also think the apology was too. Maybe even more wrong than the initial z”l. Seeing as the former slipped through whereas the latter was premeditated.

    What we saw here was mob rule. A few indignant people attacked and before you know it, desperate to deflect criticism, regardless of the rights or wrongs of the argument, an apology was seen as the safe bet. The editors response was, in my eyes, an desperate dash for the closest emergency exit.

    I admit however, that it is easy for me to speak. If it was my responsibility to keep the pennies coming in, I too might have made the same choice and capitulated in the face of the angry few.

  22. Jewish Observer says:

    As a child I used to wonder why we capitalize names of the wicked, such as Hitler. Wouldn’t the least we can do be – to not g oout of our way to add respect?

  23. A Jewish Jew says:

    Is Cross Currents a Chareidi blog or a Religious Zionist blog? Clearly the latter, as I always thought Chareidim can distinguish between Israeli and Jewish, but maybe not. From this article on, I will refer to every dead murderous non-Jew, “Zichrono Livrocho”, since anyone who kills others in the name of a fictitious concept of Judaism, be it Zionism or Christianity, is referred as such by Hamodia and yourselves. As an aside, would anyone have written “z”l” after Rabin?

  24. Jewish Observer says:

    “would anyone have written “z”l” after Rabin”

    – I am sure Rav Lau sh”lita would. See how he chracterizes Rabin z”l in his book “Al Tishlach”

  25. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    Just because there are two Adars this year doesn’t mean we have to start Purim season this early. RYA, do you know that this post was picked up by the blog “Frum Satire”? When I saw the link to CC, even more when I saw it was your post, I thought, what’s going on here (clean equivalent of three-letter common internet abbreviation). Then I read it. I have read this kind of stuff, but I didn’t expect it here. Does this mean that if many of us have a kid here and there who is OTD, then maybe there is a little bit of OTD in all of us? And if so, how do we do teshuva for it? Guess I have to ask that question in the comments section of Frum Satire.

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