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Chapter 1: Shared Loss

Chapter 1: Shared Loss


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 me.”

“The Rebbe feels the pain of every Jew,” was the reply.

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 message:

I was deeply grieved to read in the newspaper about the tragic loss of your tender, young son, may he rest in peace….

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 your family….

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,1 all the people of Israel constitute one complete entity….2

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.

Likkutei Torah, Nitzavim 44a; based on Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 9:4 and Taamei HaMitzvot, Kedoshim.
Igrot Kodesh, vol. 25, pp. 3-5. Torat Menachem—Menachem Tzion, vol. 2, pp. 536-537. A translation of the full text of the Rebbe’s letter to Ariel Sharon, which also includes a number of the other themes the Rebbe evoked on in his responses to those who have suffered a tragedy, is presented on page 189. We will be citing additional passages from this letter in later chapters.
Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson is the rabbi of Beit Baruch and executive director of Chabad of Belgravia, London, where he lives with his wife, Chana, and children.
Mendel was an editor at the Judaism Website—, and is also the author of the popular books Seeds of Wisdom and A Time to Heal.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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