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The General's Rebbe

The General's Rebbe

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With the dust from the Six-Day War still settling, Ariel Sharon took his wife, Lily, and eleven-year-old son, Gur, to visit newly liberated Jerusalem. Sharon was in battle in the Sinai Desert when he first heard that Jerusalem had been freed. Now, after the miraculous victory, the family walked together through throngs of eager Jews toward the Western Wall. A tefillin stand run by a Chabad rabbi caught Sharon’s eye. Moved and inspired, in the shadow of the wall, Ariel Sharon put on tefillin.

The rabbi manning the tefillin stand immediately recognized Sharon, the war hero who had earned a reputation for bravery and brilliance. Fighting in every war since Israel’s birth, Sharon had recently led Israeli tanks through Sinai to the eastern bank of the Suez Canal, greatly contributing to Israel’s victory.

A Tragedy

Just weeks later, Ariel Sharon’s son was dead. On Rosh Hashanah Eve of 1967, the boy jovially saluted his father and went off to play. A minute later a shot rang out. Gur and his friends had packed an antique gun with powder and somehow Gur had been shot. As a soldier, Ariel Sharon knew the wound was fatal, yet, still hoping, he picked up the boy, blood soaking his shirt, and flagged down a passing car. Moments later, Gur died in his father’s arms.

The Chabad rabbi from the Wall visited Sharon during the week of mourning. The room was full of generals and politicians. A devastated Ariel Sharon pulled the rabbi aside and implored, “You are religious, how could this happen?” The Chassid could only suggest that he ask the Lubavitcher Rebbe for answers.

“But why should I write to him? He doesn’t know me.”

“A Rebbe is a leader, he feels the pain of every Jew.”

The General understood.

A Letter

The Chabad rabbi had mentioned his earlier encounter with Sharon to the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He now told the Rebbe about Sharon’s pain-filled questions and the Rebbe reached out to Sharon with a long letter.

First, the Rebbe expressed his grief and sympathy over the tragic loss of Sharon’s son: “We cannot understand the ways of G-d. During a time of war you were saved, yet, at home, a tragedy occurred! Just as a small child cannot understand the ways of a sage, so too, a created being cannot comprehend the ways of G-d.” He added that this explanation “does not come to minimize the pain.”

The Rebbe commended Sharon for being among those who secured victory for the Jewish People against their enemies. The Rebbe also thanked him for donning tefillin at the Western Wall, a publicized event that inspired many Jews worldwide.

The Rebbe went on to discuss the traditional Jewish statement of condolence, "May G-d comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem." “What connection is there between one grieving the loss of human life and the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem?” he asked.

The Rebbe offered a number of explanations. Just as the grief over Zion and Jerusalem is common to all Jews, so too, all Jews share the grief of one Jew. The heathen conquerors of Zion could only capture the physical Temple, because the spiritual essence of the Temple resides eternally inside the heart of every Jew. Similarly, death dominates only the physical body, the soul, however, is immortal; upon death it merely ascends to the World of Truth. Ultimately, G-d will rebuild Zion and Jerusalem through Moshiach, at which time He will repair the personal loss of every Jew by fulfilling the promise of resurrection.

The Rebbe signed off saying, “May it be G-d’s will that, from now on, your family should know no pain.”

A Meeting

Sharon was deeply touched by the letter. When he traveled to America, he arranged a meeting with the Rebbe.

Naturally, Sharon assumed he would meet a Chassidic rabbi whose only brilliance was in Torah studies. He was therefore astonished when the Rebbe discussed defense issues as authoritatively as an IDF general. Likewise, the Rebbe was familiar with the geography, demography, and politics of Israel.

When the Rebbe asked Sharon why eight soldiers had died in the battle for Kalkiliya, Sharon explained that they had to cross a certain wadi where the enemy had been waiting. “But why did you have to go through the wadi?” the Rebbe asked, and then proceeded to draw up an alternative method of capturing Kalkiliya, as if he had consulted a regional military map! Sharon was amazed. The two men talked for hours, and their meeting continued well into the early hours of the morning. When they parted, Ariel Sharon left with a genuine respect and affection for the Rebbe.

On July 23rd 1968, the Rebbe saved Sharon’s life. During a meeting with the Rebbe, Sharon periodically checked his watch, as he was scheduled to return to Israel that night. The Rebbe suggested that Sharon stay a little longer and take another flight. Sharon complied and they finished their conversation. Later that night, the EL-AL flight Sharon had planned to take was hijacked to Algeria by the ‘Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.’ All Jewish passengers were held for five weeks before being released unharmed. According to those released, the hijackers seemed to be looking for ‘someone important,’ and they were enraged when they realized that he was not aboard. It was later revealed that the entire incident was an operation executed to capture Ariel Sharon.

Israel

At various times, the Rebbe expressed his concerns to Sharon regarding political issues facing Israel. When Sharon approached the Rebbe asking him to influence his followers to settle in the territories captured during the Six Day War, the Rebbe expressed reservations. “What would happen if a fight were to break out between a Jewish boy and an Arab boy, whose side would the government take? Especially if the Arab mayor comes along and makes a loud fuss about Jewish provocation…”

For six years between 1967 and 1973, Israel built up her military defenses including the Bar Lev Line. Named after Israel’s Chief of Staff, Chaim Bar Lev, the Bar Lev Line was a fixed demarcation between Egypt and Israel along the Suez Canal defended by small military outposts. Sharon was adamantly opposed to the plan because he felt that a more mobile security arrangement was essential. He was discharged from the army because of his confrontations with Bar Lev. Sharon, always deeply interested in Israeli politics, now felt free to enter the political arena. He met with politicians while still in uniform. His uniform was a blatant reminder that Sharon’s war hero status made him a well-known and extremely popular figure among Israelis. Bar Lev received a phone call from Parliament instructing him to reinstate Sharon “before he interferes in the upcoming elections.”

The Rebbe agreed that the Bar Lev Line was a grave error, and kept in close contact with Sharon, advising him to remain in the military as Israel needed his experience and abilities. The Rebbe warned Sharon against the cease-fire with Egypt that was negotiated after the Six Day War. It subsequently became apparent that in violation of the ceasefire agreement, Egypt was steadily fortifying its army with Russian assistance. War was inevitable. The Rebbe cautioned Sharon, “If one truly desires peace, then he must show that he is prepared to fight for it, with the utmost intensity and under the most advantageous conditions.”

The Rebbe often told Sharon, “Our greatest mistake would be to withdraw from our new borders. Without hesitation we must stop trying to please other countries. Regarding the various solutions now being put forward, involving either full or partial withdrawal by Israel, such action will cause a worsening of tensions in the future.” The Rebbe emphasized, “These solutions defy the natural order, as the current borders of Israel are its natural borders.”

A few years later, Sharon left the army and formed the “Likud” party with Menachem Begin.

When the Yom Kippur War broke out in 1973, Israel was caught unawares. The Egyptian army destroyed the Bar Lev Line; hundreds of soldiers were trapped in their positions and almost 3,000 died. Sharon, reinstated as Commander of the armored divisions, promptly crossed the Suez Canal and attacked the Egyptian army unexpectedly. This battle assisted Israel’s subsequent victory.

After the Yom Kippur War, Ariel Sharon reentered politics, eventually becoming Prime Minister of Israel in 2001.

At his last meeting with the Rebbe in 1989, Sharon asked the Rebbe for a blessing for Israel. The Rebbe replied with a verse from the Torah, “And I will give peace in your land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid.” The Rebbe pointed out, “The Torah does not say ‘in the land’ but ‘in your land,’ which suggests that true peace will come only when the land is clearly Jewish.”

Originally published in Kosher Spirit
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