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The Giant and the General

Davar reporter Noach Zevuluny wrapping a tefillin strap on Ariel Sharon's arm at the Kotel shortly after the 1967 Six Day War. This event, and a personal tragedy that befell the Sharon family months later, were a precursor to a lengthy relationship between the Lubavitcher Rebbe and Sharon. I believe this relationship was a long educational project of the Rebbe that ended with mixed results.

Davar reporter Noach Zevuluny wrapping a tefillin strap on Ariel Sharon's arm at the Kotel shortly after the 1967 Six Day War. This event, and a personal tragedy that befell the Sharon family months later, were a precursor to a lengthy relationship between the Lubavitcher Rebbe and Sharon. I believe this relationship was a long educational project of the Rebbe that ended with mixed results.
Photo Credit: shturem.net

In a seemingly honest and open language, the Rebbe first explained his reason for writing a complete stranger: “…the fame that you received served to reveal something that existed even before, i.e., the interconnectedness of all Jews, whether of the Holy Land or of the Diaspora.”

And he proceeded to praise Sharon for putting on tefillin for all the world to see: “the tremendous inspiration that you aroused in the hearts of many of our Jewish brethren when you put on tefillin at the Western Wall, an act which merited great publicity and echoed powerfully and positively into the various strata of our nation, in places both near and far.”

Then he taught him about the blessing to the mourner: “May the Omnipresent comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”

At first glance, the connection between the mourner at whom this blessing is directed and the mourners of Jerusalem’s destruction appears to be quite puzzling. In truth, however, they are connected. For the main consolation embodied by this phrase is in its inner content, namely: The grief over Zion and Jerusalem is common to all the sons and daughters of our people, 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. For, as the sages have taught, all of the Jewish people comprise one integral organism.

The Rebbe assured the mourning Sharon that just as God would, without a doubt, rebuild the ruins of Zion and Jerusalem and bring our redemption, so will He, again without a doubt, heal his on grief.

With eloquence and an economy of words, the great man wrapped Sharon’s personal loss with the nation’s historic loss, to generate a truly powerful call to arms. I’ve no idea whether Sharon, who was never accused of being a fool, but fell short of being a scholar, got the message. It’s possible that his relationship with the Rebbe, born in this letter of condolences, wasn’t nearly as important to him as Chabd.org would have us believe. It’s entirely possible that all Sharon wanted from the Rebbe was a practical and concrete value: make friends with the old man and secure the support of some religious politicians—and that everything else was lost on him.

But look at the brilliance and the nuance in the Rebbe’s concluding paragraph, tying the tangible victory of 1967 with a much greater, spiritual victory which is yet to come:

…The Romans—and before them, the Babylonians—were given dominion only over the wood and stone, silver and gold of the Temple’s physical manifestation, but not over its inner spiritual essence, contained within the heart of each and every Jew—for the nations have no dominion over this, and it stands eternally.

As I read it, the subtext for the above colorful paragraph appeared to me to be: You liberated some nice, historically significant stones, General Sharon. But other generals have done it before you, with only pain and destruction to show for it. You, on the other hand, are a Jewish general, and so you have the power to transform your physical victory into a glorious act of redemption, for the Jewish nation and for the world.

I don’t think the Lubavtcher Rebbe had any illusions about the narcissistic qualities of the enormously powerful and charismatic Jewish soul with whom he had struck a relationship. I believe he set out to teach and influence this brave and heroic Jewish general in the hope that his gifts of spirit and intellect would bring good to the world. I would be the first to agree that the results of the Rebbe’s “project” were dubious. But I also shudder to think what might reality have been like without the Rebbe’s influence.

About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.


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4 Responses to “The Giant and the General”

  1. Levi Wolosow says:

    Where does Chabad.org come close to suggesting that Sharon was a hidden Chabadnik?

  2. He was great solder. Menuhato ben Gaden

  3. great article Yori, and quite incisive . . .

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