The other day a man who had just given up an affair to return to his wife asked
me why marriage is such a struggle. “I feel like I’m going against my nature,
always having to fight with myself to make my marriage work. Why can’t it all be
easier?” I responded from the Jewish mystical classic, Tanya, which says that
love is a form of war. The truly loving man is the individual who is prepared to
fight his nature because he loves a woman. The real romantic goes to battle with
himself to be erotically focused on a single person.
The ancient rabbis
said that the true hero is the person who gains mastery not over a combatant but
himself. The truly devoted husband is he who fights polygamous leanings to
discover intimacy and thus a humanity that transcends animal
It’s not the easiest advice. Most of us prefer a life of
leisure to a life of struggle. The modern world is geared toward deadening us
emotionally with binge TV-watching, binge-drinking, growing legalization of
cannabis and prescription drugs, and anything else that numbs us to life’s
And yet the very word “Israel” translates as “he who
wrestles.” It was the name given to the patriarch Jacob who wrestled with his
brother who sought to kill him, a father-in-law who sought to enslave him, and
an angel who sought to subdue him.
Herein, in my view, lies the tragedy
of the life of Ariel Sharon, whose legacy is being reexamined as he fights for
his life – we pray successfully – at Tel Hashomer in Israel.
If there is
one thing that Sharon’s life epitomized, and what he best understood, is that
Jewish existence and history is all about struggle.
Legend has it that
Golda Meir once said that good days would come to Israel when it appeared in the
newspapers as much as Switzerland.
Whether or not this is true, it
captures the eternal Israeli yearning for peace and tranquility.
Patriarch Jacob, who was called Israel, was asked by Pharaoh how old he was, he
responded, “The years of my sojourning are one hundred and thirty; few and
unpleasant have been the years of my life.” It is not easy to
We all want an easier life.
Sharon’s insight was to know
this was a pipedream.
For 2,000 years the Jews were forced to struggle to
survive. It was not about to end just because they finally had a country of
They would be forced to fight their enemy’s inexplicable
desire to push them into the sea. It was best to embrace the struggle with all
of its implications. It was better to be controversial than
Throughout his life Ariel Sharon, “the bulldozer,” epitomized
Jewish struggle. From early on, he understood that security for Israel within
its borders would be an uphill battle that would be hard-fought.
joined Israel’s underground militia, the Hagana, at age 14 and fought in
Israel’s struggle for independence at 20. He distinguished himself in the
fighting and was shot in the stomach by Jordanian troops in the battle for
Latrun. The battle for that fortress on the road to Jerusalem culminated in the
loss of 139 soldiers in his brigade.
Sharon was Israel’s quintessential
warrior. He climbed through the ranks of Israel’s defense forces in its early
years, as a soldier, an instructor, a commander, and became one of its youngest
Later in life, General Sharon surfaced as one of Israel’s most
influential politicians and founded two political parties. In 1991, as Israel’s
housing minister, he came to speak for Oxford L’Chaim Society at the Oxford
Union. Huge protests greeted him. I was amazed at how unfazed he was. He held
his wife Lilly’s hand tightly and glided right by the protesters. He had come to
expect to be opposed in all that he did.
Sharon was a man of deep
principle. He had no qualms rebuking those with Jewish blood on their hands. At
the Wye Plantation peace talks in 1998, as Israel’s foreign minister, he
famously refused to shake Yasser Arafat’s hand. Later, Sharon made sure to
restrict the father of modern terrorism to his compound in Ramallah.
most of his political career, he was an unwavering supporter of Israeli
settlements and oversaw the biggest wave of Jewish development in the West Bank
and Gaza since Israel took control of the territories in 1967.
in his last major decision as prime minister, his staunch encouragement of
Israeli settlement policy took an unpredictable turn.
In 2005, he
passively brought about the creation of what would become a Hamas terror state
in the Gaza Strip when he ordered a unilateral Israeli withdrawal. The Jewish
graveyard in Gaza was excavated, synagogues were demolished, and over 8,000
Israelis were evicted from their homes.
It seemed to many that Sharon, as
well as the Israeli public at large, forgot that Israel survives only through
struggle. That while having communities in Gaza, surrounded by a million
Palestinians, is not comfortable, even more uncomfortable is Gaza being turned
into a launching pad for terror and rockets that have continued unabated since
In return for its withdrawal Israel got a major war,
the Mavi Marmara, constant international condemnation for simply trying to stop
the influx of weapons to Hamas terrorists, and most significantly an incessant
shower of rockets on its citizens and cities. In 2008, over 2,000 rockets were
launched on Israeli cities from Gaza, and over 2,200 in 2012.
Netanyahu, who protested prime minister Sharon’s decision by leaving his
cabinet, told his colleagues: “I am calling on all those who grasp the danger:
Gather strength and do the right thing... [Don’t] give [the Palestinians] guns,
don’t give them rockets, don’t give them a sea port, and don’t give them a huge
base for terror.”
Sharon hoped that after withdrawing from Gaza Israel
would cease to struggle, at least on its Western border. Peace would place
Israel in high public standing, even in the face of evidence that the Gaza would
soon be an Iranian proxy for terror against Israel.
The last surviving
Israeli leader from the generation of its founders, Ariel Sharon wanted peace to
be his eternal legacy. Judaism loves peace and in our religion God’s very name
is peace. Every day we pray and year for peace. But calling war peace will not
make it so.
The author, whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous
Rabbi in America,” will shortly publish Kosher Lust: Love is Not the
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