Rabbi Eliezer Melamed
The writer is Head of Yeshivat Har Bracha and a prolific author on Jewish Law, whose works include the series on Jewish law "Pininei Halacha" and a popular weekly column "Revivim" in the Besheva newspaper. His books "The Laws of Prayer" "The Laws of Passover" and "Nation, Land, Army" are presently being translated into English. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be viewed at: www.yhb.org.il/1
Q: Rabbi, how should we relate to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon – as a good or bad person? And besides, maybe we shouldn’t ask such questions at all, because who are we to judge a person? Can we examine a person’s inner recesses, and know the secrets of his heart?
A: For someone whom morality is of no great concern, this question is irrelevant. On the contrary, such a person would probably condemn those who ask such questions, because he opposes moral judgment. But for someone for whom moral values are central to life, this question cannot be ignored. Particularly when the media are occupied with eulogies and summaries of his life, it is imperative to discuss this question, from which a lesson can also be learned for future generations.
Indeed, with regard to religious observance, it is difficult for us to pass absolute judgment. This is due to the fact that in recent generations, for various reasons, many of our fellow Jews have regrettably stopped observing mitzvoth bein Adam laMakom (between Man and God). As a result, eminent rabbis have already expressed the opinion that their actions can be considered ‘onus’ (coerced) to a certain extent, and in order to judge such matters, an examination of a person’s heart and inner recesses is required.
However, concerning the clearly visible national aspect of this issue, which touches on matters between man and his fellow man, and between man and his nation, we are obligated to judge according to what we see.
We are Judged according to the Conclusion
It is written in the Babylonian Talmud:
“Rabbi Simeon b. Yohai said: Even if he is perfectly righteous all his life but rebels at the end, he destroys his former [good deeds], for it is said: ‘The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression.’ And even if one is completely wicked all his life but repents at the end, he is not reproached with his wickedness, for it is said, ‘and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall thereby in the day that he turns from his wickedness’.” (Kiddushin 40b).
Concerning this, our Sages asked: Why should a person’s final actions cancel out his previous ones? Seemingly, it would be appropriate to consider all of one’s merits and all of his transgressions, and weigh them against each other!
Reish Lakish replied: “It means that he regretted his former deeds”, namely, because he regretted his previous good deeds, he cancels them out.
This is also cited in the Jerusalem Talmud (Pe’ah 1:1), in addition to the words of Rabbi Yochanan, who said that if an evil person completely repented, not only are his previous sins erased, but “all the sins he committed are considered as merits”, or as Reish Lakish said: “Great is repentance for, because of it, premeditated sins are accounted as errors” (Yoma 86b).
This is true, provided the repentance was complete and out of love.
Sanctification and Desecration of God
Beyond a person’s attitude towards his own actions determining their value, when a person’s final decision is well-known and publicized – it can be either a kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God), or a chilul Hashem (desecration of God). For if a sinful person reaches the conclusion that he was mistaken, indeed, his repentance is a kiddush Hashem which affects many people, for here, someone who had transgressed an array of sins, in the end regretted them, and repented with all his heart. And it turns out retrospectively that all the sins he had committed are converted into merits, because precisely as a result of them, many others follow in his footsteps and repent.
On the other hand, if a righteous person decided there was no value in the mitzvoth he had performed and chose to become a sinner, this is a much greater chilul Hashem, because all can say: Here is a person who knew thoroughly the value of themitzvoth, and nevertheless, decided to change his mind and become a sinner – there is no end to the damage caused by his actions. All of the mitzvoth he had performed turn into obstacles, because precisely on account of them, others decide to abandon the proper path.
Consequently, all of Ariel Sharon’s achievements in building Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip were erased when he destroyed the communities in Gush Katif and northern Samaria, and expelled their residents. However, his huge contributions in building the army, and in the battles he waged fiercely and ingeniously, stand him in good stead, as he did not regret them.
Even during the Disengagement, presumably, he believed he was acting out of concern for the State of Israel’s security. And although his heart was most likely swayed by various personal considerations as well – in his mind, he thought he was acting for the sake of Israel’s security. Therefore, his merits as a fighter and commander stand him in good stead, but his merits as a partner in building the country are lost.
“Do Not Believe In Yourself until the Day You Die”
Our Sages said:
“Do not believe in yourself until the day you die, for lo, Yochanan the High Priest officiated as High Priest for eighty years, and in the end, he became a Sadducee” (Berachot 29a).
Likewise, they also said:
“Typically, two people who grow-up together in the same village for two or three years become friends, yet this one (the evil inclination), grows-up with a person from his youth until his old age (and always lurks to take his life). If he finds a way to topple him within twenty years – he topples him; within sixty years – he topples him; within eighty years – he topples him. Regarding Yochanan the High Priest, the Sages said he officiated as High Priest for eighty years, and in the end, he became a Sadducee. This is what King David said: “With every bone in my body I will praise him: LORD, who can compare with you? Who else rescues the helpless from the strong? Who else protects the helpless and poor from those who rob them?" – This alludes to the rescuing of the good inclination from the evil inclination (Pesikta d’Rav Kahana, Beshalach 11).
The Precise Wording of Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook ztz”l
At the time when Ariel Sharon served as Minister of Defense, he came to the Jerusalem Day celebration at Yeshiva Merkaz HaRav. The master of ceremony introduced him, saying: “It is our honor and pleasure to welcome the ‘Minister of Defense’, Ariel Sharon”.
When Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah – who chose his words with extreme precision – stood up to speak, he referred to Sharon as “our military Minister of Defense”. The listeners could have understood from his wording that only one who is also responsible for matters of emunah (faith) and trust in God, deserves to be called “Minister of Defense”. Bitachon (security), above all, is an attribute of spiritual faith, which cannot be acquired by means of political appointment.
Similarly, it must be accurately noted that while Ariel Sharon greatly assisted the building of Jewish life in Yesha, acting as an agent of the Government of Israel, he was not the “father” of the "settlement movement". Quite the opposite, our revered mentor and teacher, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook, who encouraged the settling the Land was the father of the "settlement movement". And the first "settlers", who clung to the soil with mesirut nefesh (self-sacrifice and devotion) and attracted others to follow in their path, also can be considered the fathers of the settlement movement.