|Ariel Sharon on his Negev farm in 1993. Flash90|
I had the opportunity to be with the late Prime Minister Ariel (Arik) Sharon on two occasions.
The first was at an Israel Bonds Rabbinic Cabinet mission to Israel in January 1992 and the other was as part of a United Jewish Communities National Mission a decade later. In the first instance he was then the Minister of Housing, and I asked him a question about the settlement blocks. His response, in his inimitable way, was to immediately instruct one of his assistants to provide all of us with maps to better illustrate the answer he was about to give.
This was typical Sharon. As a military strategist he lived his life in large measure according to his maps. He always traveled with multiple sets in tow, especially when speaking to the press or visiting delegations like ours. In the words of the Talmud, not then explicitly said by him but clearly intuited, “aino domeh shemiah l’reiyah,” – “there is no comparing the power of something seen to that which is merely heard.” So we went home with a sample of Sharon cartography in our carry-on luggage.
On the second occasion, he was prime minister, and addressed a special session of the mission participants at Kiryat Moriah, the educational compound of the Jewish Agency in south Jerusalem. Arriving there early, my wife, Berni, and I managed to secure seats in the front row. Beyond the fascination of studying the moves and methods of his security detail, whose minds seem to operate like mini machines pivoting at prescribed intervals and who switch positions every 10 minutes to avoid fatigue, was the hominess and unguarded manner of speech exhibited by the prime minister.
Unlike the earlier experience 10 years before, where his physiognomy was more than remarkable – I calculated three to four steps for the average person to his one gulp of a gait – the latter-day Sharon, while still large in stature, had lost the statuesque form of the celebrated soldier and general. But when I questioned him then about what message he would like us to take back to our children in the United States, his immediate and seemingly natural response was to “tell them to study the Bible.”
Born on a collective farm, and reared as a military man, Ariel Sharon’s life was very much the confluence of our land and our lore – on the one hand dispensing maps and on the other encouraging the study of Tanach. It is then no mere political staging that often captured Sharon sitting at his desk in the Prime Minister’s office with book-lined shelves behind him. In this way, the Israeli prime minister’s office is markedly different from that of the tome-less Oval Office, so carefully designed for its measured message of power and symbolism.
Some would say that Ariel Sharon was a man of many, even gross contradictions. As a family we lived in Israel during the two years that saw the “Hitnatkut” (Gaza withdrawal) proposed and realized, with all of the national convulsions it wrought. That failed effort, pursued in earnest, intended to preserve the Jewish nature of the county and avoid a demographic threat, will haunt his legacy. But one cannot have met this man and heard his message without feeling his unwavering, visceral commitment to the preservation of the Land and the People, their safety and security.
Lawrence S. Zierler is rabbi of the Jewish Center of Teaneck.