One of the very difficult aspects of bereavement
is the feeling that we are utterly alone in our misery—that no other human
being can possibly share in the depth of our loss.
This feeling only intensifies when the rest of the
world moves on, having barely paused to take notice of the devastating hole
that death has punched in our universe. This experience of profound loneliness
can be eased somewhat by a sense of solidarity with others, a sense that our
loss, while deeply personal, is also shared by the wider community.
In October of 1967, a few months after the Six-Day
War, a terrible tragedy struck the home of Ariel Sharon, the famous Israeli
general and future prime minister of Israel.
Sharon’s eleven-year-old son Gur was playing
outdoors with a friend. The two children were fooling around with an old
shotgun, which belonged to the general, when the other boy pointed the gun at
Gur’s head and mistakenly pulled the trigger.
When he heard the shot, Sharon rushed outside,
where he found his son Gur lying unconscious in a pool of blood. Sharon knew
the wound was fatal, yet, still hoping, he took him in his arms and flagged
down a passing car to take him to the nearest hospital. A short while later,
Gur was gone, having died in his father’s arms.
A Chabad rabbi came to visit Sharon during the week
of mourning. The room was full of generals and politicians. A devastated Ariel
Sharon pulled the rabbi aside and peppered him with questions, imploring, “You
are religious; tell me, how could this happen?” The rabbi could only suggest
that he ask the Lubavitcher Rebbe for answers.
“But why should I write to him? He doesn’t know
“The Rebbe feels the pain of every Jew,” was the
After leaving Sharon’s home, the rabbi made contact
with the Rebbe and informed him about Sharon’s anguished questions. The Rebbe
immediately reached out to Sharon with a letter, which included the following
I was deeply grieved to read in the
newspaper about the tragic loss of your tender, young son, may he rest in
At first glance, it would appear that we
are distant from one another, not only geographically, but also—or even more
so—in terms of being unfamiliar, indeed, unaware of each other, until the
Six-Day War (as it’s come to be known), when you became famous and celebrated
as a commander and defender of our Holy Land and its inhabitants…. But on the
basis of a fundamental, deeply rooted, age-old Jewish principle, namely, that
all Jews are kindred, the fame you received served to reveal something that
existed even before—that is, the interconnectedness of all Jews, including
between a Jew who lives in the Holy Land and a Jew who lives in the Diaspora.
It is this interconnectedness that spurred me to write these words to you and
An element of solace—indeed, more than
just an element—even in so great a tragedy is expressed in the traditional text
[of the words spoken to a mourner], hallowed by scores of generations of Torah
and tradition among our people: “May the Omnipresent comfort you among the
mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”
On the face of it, the connection
[between the individual mourner and the mourners of the destruction of
Jerusalem and the Holy Temple] appears to be quite puzzling. In truth, however,
the main consolation embodied by this phrase is in its inner content: namely,
that just as the grief over Zion and Jerusalem is common to all the sons and
daughters of Israel wherever they may be (although it is more palpable to those
who dwell in Jerusalem and actually see the Western Wall and the ruins of our
Holy Temple than to those who are far away from it; nonetheless, even those who
are far experience great pain and grief over the destruction), so too is the
grief of a single individual Jew or Jewish family shared by the entire nation.
This itself is a source of consolation. For as our Sages expressed themselves, all the people of Israel
constitute one complete entity….
The Rebbe was reminding Sharon of an essential
truth: we are not alone. The Jewish nation is a single unit. Our private joys
are the joys of our people; our losses are the losses of our nation.