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Peter J. Rubinstein
On Prime Minister Ariel Sharon

Peter J. Rubinstein  |  January 6, 2006

The stroke that has afflicted Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel has as well stricken the robust hope for revolutionary peace in Israel. Even as the Prime Minister lies in his sick bed we join those people of good will who pray for his well-being though none of us can presume to know what Mr. Sharon would want for himself at this time of severe incapacitation.

Ariel Sharon has unexpectedly become a world leader of unexpected dimension and popularity. And at the very least we must not only pray, but assiduously continue to work for our shared vision of peace: peace with mutual dignity and respect for Israelis and Palestinians alike; peace without the fear of terrorist incursions into the heart of population centers so that mothers and fathers and infants might find a reprieve from the threat of violence; the kind of peace where terrorists on both sides are demilitarized, controlled and imprisoned by both sides; the kind of peace which we would hope for ourselves and every human being.

Many of us are startled when we reflect that not too long ago Ariel Sharon was perceived as among the most polarizing personalities on the screen of Middle East political life. While Sharon’s love of Israel was beyond question, his transformation into a peace maker depended on his remarkable ability to conclude that past policies, even those for which he was responsible, were no longer in Israel’s best interest. Throughout his life he has taken action that he believed at the moment the situation demanded.

In fact, today’s Torah portion, provides insight on this very matter. The portion is called “Vayiygash” words which mean “And he approached or drew near.” (p. 281) Recall that we are reading a section in the continuing story of Joseph and his brothers. After years of separation, Joseph’s brothers, having come to Egypt in search of food, unknowingly stand before the very brother they had sold into slavery. Joseph had toyed with his brothers, not yet revealing his identity, demanding they return with their youngest brother Benjamin, and by having his servants plant his “divination goblet” into Benjamin’s pack so that his army would capture them and indict him for robbery.

Thus the scene is set and having been found with money and the cup in their bags his brothers stand before Joseph “Vayiyash alav Yehuda” “And with his other brothers behind him Judah approached Joseph.”

We do not know the totality of emotions in the room when this happened because much is left unsaid. We wonder: Did Judah approach Joseph quickly, as though to charge at him or slowly, haltingly, with head lowered in humility. Were Judah’s fists clenched and his face red with fury? Or was Judah trembling and his face pale with fear?

The word “approached” leaves out the details so our midrash, which often fills in the blanks explains that this word Vayiyash can introduce three different kinds of action: One can approach to do battle, or to reconcile or to pray.

Ariel Sharon has done all three and therein is the reason he has impacted history. When necessary, he was the courageous, if not always the wise military leader of Israel. There was no doubt that Sharon would ever retire from a battle which he believed was in defense of his beloved Israel. He would fight any war he believed under girded the well being of his people and his land. And then, surprising to so many, Ariel Sharon became the unexpected champion of reconciliation, withdrawing from Gaza which he helped to capture in 1967, recognizing the Palestinian presence and authority which he had once vowed to destroy, removing Jewish settlements which he had helped found, and finally abandoning the Likud party which he had helped create.

And prayer, too, was part of his persona. This was a man who believed in a God who had chosen the Jewish people to carry forth a divine message to the world.

So, while we pray for his full recovery, which would seem a miracle in itself, we discover in Ariel Sharon a life model for one who is able to reverse the direction of his life and focus on the pursuit of peace

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