Ariel Sharon was a man who popped in and out of the news from the time that baby boomers were children until his death, days ago. Let's leave formal remembrances to pundits, to admirers and even detractors. The goal of this essay is to demonstrate Jewish values learned from him.
There is no doubt of Sharon's complexity. He flipped from being a left-wing Laborite, to a member of the right-wing Likud coalition. When voted in as prime minister he was the head of a centrist coalition that later brought Prime Minister Olmert to power and afterward vanished. Do these flips reflect inconsistency? Perhaps. On the other hand they may signal pragmatism and love for Israel. Loving the land of Israel and having a special affection for the People of Israel are arachim, values, long part of Jewish tradition. Sharon flipped from hawk to dove, from socialist to capitalist. He always supported his country and its inhabitants.
Pirkei Avot teaches to love the work and detest authority. Sharon was devoted to his life's work. He pursued building, supporting, nurturing, defending and protecting the State of Israel. To fulfill that lofty life's task, Sharon defied authority on a regular basis. Defying authority is what gained his greatest admirers.
He spurned authority in the Suez Campaign of 1956 and was almost lost from history as a result. Resurrected by Moshe Dayan for the Six Day War, he became commander of the Sinai for the IDF. During the Yom Kippur War he acted against generals' orders by crossing the Suez Canal and encircling Egyptian forces. That act may have won the war for the Israeli army. Because he ignored orders he was never promoted to become chief of staff.
When years later he became the prime minister, he did the unthinkable. The hawk of many years unilaterally turned Gaza and the northern part of the Western Bank to Palestinian control. It was a bold trade of land for peace for which we continue to pray. He demonstrated to the world that he would do anything to enhance his country's abilityto live peacefully with her neighbors. The withdrawal was not well received by all. Ardent likudniks of the time condemned him. The whole Land of Israel, to their collective mind, is the permanent legacy of the Jewish people. Rabbinic authorities are divided. While they may more or less agree with the Likud premise many apply an important caveat. Sacrificing land for peace and safety is a bargain.
What lessons are there for American Jewry from this strange man? Perhaps that there are few ideologies so central or basic that they must be maintained at all costs. He taught to always look for a greater good. Jews of all religious affiliations accept the authority of tradition on some level. Torah and traditions have been passed down for generations. Yet Sharon stood up to religious authorities, to government leaders and even to officers above him in rank. His acts distinguished between the authority of Heaven and that of flesh and blood.
As Sharon lay in a coma for the past eight years, medical equipment allowed him to breathe and be nourished. For all practical purposes he died when that stroke occurred. May his family ably accept the closure that this passing allows. May Sharon be bound among the living and a source of blessing for all.