This is my attempt at blogging. I'm still learning about the blogging world, and this is my own personal study hall.

Monday, May 08, 2006

"Very Tough Moral Dilemma"

I wrote the post below on "Out of Town" Jews after Ariel Sharon had his stroke. I decided at the time that I would add his name to my Holim (sick people) list. Every time that I Daven I say his name in "Refaeinu" ("Heal Us" - a blessing in silent 'Amidah prayer, recited three times daily), and I think about that decision every time. And I wonder if, now, after so much time has passed, people might be more willing to add his name to their prayers than when he originally had the stroke. I know that some people had no interest in praying for him because they felt he had betrayed the Jewish people as a whole. One person with whom I spoke about this seemed angry at the mere suggestion of praying for him as a member of Kelal Yisrael (the Jewish People). I wonder if she would feel differently about that now. I mean, how many emails do you get a week or a month, and how many notices do you see in your Shul, asking you to pray for someone you don't know? I know a lot of people probably ignore them, and a lot of people probably think to themselves, "I would pray for that person if I could memorize names better," or "I would pray for that person if I had some way of finding out later on if they recovered or not, so I don't end up praying for them indefinitely." I used to add names without knowing anything about the person, and now I add them if I feel that I will be able to find out later what their status is. But I have a very long list and it's difficult to add the names of people I don't know. But what about Sharon? Let's say we don't like his policies? Let's say we don't like him personally? Does that mean that we have a valid reason not to pray for him? I know exactly who he is. And I will almost definitely be able to find out if he recovers or doesn't. I know for a fact that he is currently still living and currently still in a coma and in need of prayers. How can I choose not to pray for my fellow Jew who's stuck in a coma, when these are the circumstances? Anyway, below is my original post on the now mostly abandoned "Out of Town" Jews.

It's clearly the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. Ariel Sharon, if he survives, will never hold political office again, barring a miraculous recovery. (If anyone anti-Sharon is reading this, please understand that I am using the word 'miraculous' in the literal sense - ie, that it would take a miracle for him to recover fully to the level to be able to run for political office again - not the optimistic sense - ie, that it would be wonderful and miraculous if he could make it back to power. I am attempting to leave politics completely out of this conversation.)

But the question has presented itself to me: How do we treat Sharon's illness on a religious/spiritual/Jewish level?

If we love Ariel Sharon, we must obviously pray for his full, "miraculous" recovery, and that he chooses to ignore what will almost certainly be his doctors' most urgent order, to retire for his own health's sake. If, however, we oppose Sharon, as a prime minister, as a politician, and/or even as a person, we are faced with a dilemma. I do not know the answer, but here are the factors that must be considered:

1. He is a human being with a family, and one who spent his life trying, at least in his own mind, to serve Israel and the Jewish people as best as he can.

2. He is a Jew. Jews have always prayed for one another. We have a saying from Pirqei Avoth: "Kol Yisrael 'Arevim Zeh LaZeh" - "All of Israel is responsible for one another." (Israel is this case, of course, refers not to the State but to Jews as a nation). This statement has been understood throughout the millennia to mean so many things, including one another's physical survival, welfare, health, financial well-being, and even religious/spiritual well-being.

3. He has been involved in political scandals. He may have muscled his way to power and abused power. He and his family have been accused of criminal conspiracies.

4. His policies may be damaging to Jews and the Jewish state.

5. He is a symbol of Jewish strength and political and military success.

This is where the dilemma comes in.

At what point do we draw the line and pray for someone whom we hold to be damaging to the Jews? Do we say that he deserves this as punishment for his actions? Do we assume that if he lives he will have no influence over policy, and that therefore we can be comfortable with his survival (assuming we disagree with those policies)? Do we say that we pray for any and all human beings, no matter how much we may disagree with them?

My feelings may appear to have come out a bit in this post, but I have tried to stay neutral. I believe I have succeeded. I played both sides, and I noted where assumptions on one side or another would be necessary. Obviously the dilemma is slightly more pronounced on one side than the other. I hope I didn't offend anybody. This post was inspired by some conversations I had with others, in which many different opinions came out, and I tried to represent all of those opinions fairly here.


Blogger Koppie said...

I'm reminded of the mishna about Isaac's death. The rabbis say, when he was on his deathbed, his entire household gathered to pray for him. The strength of their prayers alone kept him alive. A serving girl, who had not joined in the prayer, saw that his household was prolonging his life unecessarily. She intentionally dropped a clay pot. The sound of the pot breaking distracted the worshippers, just long enough for Isaac to die.

The rabbis say the girl was right to do what she did. It is not a mitzvah to prolong someone's life unecessarily, and it is not a mitzvah to pray for their recovery when it is their time to die.

Sharon's life is over. He has finished his mission on earth, for better or for worse. Essentially, his dying act was to create a new centrist political party what swept to power in the last election. I respect and admire the man, and I will not pray for his recovery.

4:47 AM

Blogger Seth said...

I'm not familiar with that Midrash, but there is a similar Midrash about King David. He was afraid of dying, so he learned Torah day and night, forcing himself to stay awake. Finally, the Angel of Death knocked his chair over, and he fell, ceased learning momentarily, and in that moment he died.

But there are also statements to the effect that when people suffer sever illnesses, one possible reason is to stir others to pray on his/her behalf. Another reason is to test the faith of those around him/her. So unless we are privy to G-d's decisions before they are evident, I can't say that I will feel comfortable not praying for even a partial recovery for someone with severe illness and suffering. But don't get me wrong. I definitely hear where you're coming from. If I had thought of that earlier, perhaps I would not have begun to pray for him. But once I've started I don't think I ought to stop.

My main point was of a different focus. I was wondering about people's willingness to pray for him if they oppose him. I hope the reason nobody else has responded is the length of the post.

4:37 PM


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