In many movies, the first scene is also a scene from the end of the film; the entire movie makes a full circle from the end to the beginning to the end again. So today I would like to outline the plot of a screenplay, and I’d like to begin at the end. There is a man lying on a hospital bed. He is in a persistent vegetative state from which he will never recover. He is a white-haired, heavy set man, clinging to a life that is no longer life.
But what a life it was, a life that made history, a life that changed a nation. It was a life filled with great and sometimes terrible events; wars, brutal violence, massacres, elections, victories, defeats, comebacks, political negotiations, international diplomacy, fame, power, walking with kings and presidents, international lawsuits. But it was also a life filled with the basic things of life, a beautiful home, a long and loving marriage, wonderful and loyal children, strong roots, strong identity, not to mention the love of great food.
After the first scene of the man on the hospital bed, to which we will return at the end, we go back to 1937. The man on the bed was then a nine-year old boy, living on a farm in British-controlled Palestine. The boy is standing in his mother’s kitchen, crying as he reads her the news of Jewish people who were murdered by Arabs.
In the next scene, it is the early 1950s, after Israel has become a nation. Even though Israel has, against all odds, won the War of Independence, the violent Arab attacks have not stopped. And the boy is now a young man in his twenties who is leading a commando unit to retaliate against the Arab marauders. The scene is a bloody one, as the young man leads a brutal reprisal to make the point that the Arab attacks must stop. The young man is angry and forceful and a dynamic leader of the men under his command.
It is now 1967; the man is in his late thirties. And he stands on a boulder, hands on his hips, looking out from his high perch above a battle that wages in the eastern Sinai Peninsula. He has mapped an ingenious military strategy that leads to an important victory at a central crossroads; his victory plays a significant part in the great triumph that we call the Six-Day War.
It is now 1971. The man is now a famous general who has the task of stopping the terror coming from the Gaza Strip. He does so, temporarily, by using collective punishment, threatening civilians, and applying a shoot-to-kill policy against suspected terrorists.
The next scene is from 1973, the Yom Kippur War, when Israel is caught unprepared and initially loses, but the man confounds the Egyptian enemies by crossing the Suez Canal, cutting off the Egyptian Third Army, and turns what could have been the end of Israel into a major victory. He is, as a result, extremely popular and respected; he is a king of Israel.
It is now the late 1970s and the early eighties, and he is a cabinet minister in the Israeli government, who establishes more than a hundred Israeli outposts in the West Bank and Gaza, in what many see as an astonishing attempt to seize permanent control over large chunks of Palestinian-held territory. For him, every hill is strategic in the defense of Israel. Every settlement asserts Israeli control of strategic areas.
But then he falls into a real-life nightmare. He leads Israel into a war in Lebanon, a war, again, to defend Israel against terrorists who are operating from there. The war is another victory, but it is not worth it. And when Lebanese Christians massacre hundreds of Palestinian refugees, the man bears the blame for allowing it to happen. He is accused of being responsible by Time magazine and he sues Time for libel, winning his case. But the damage to his reputation and career has been done. His career is over. He is called a political leper, ostracized from politics. It is as if he has the mark of Cain written on his forehead, the brand of a murderer.
And so he goes back to his ranch, the thousand-acre Sycamore Ranch in the western Negev, the southern region of Israel. And he realizes that despite the victories in the wars and the military might, Israel is still a small, fragile state surrounded by hostile countries that want to destroy it.
He doesn’t believe in peace agreements based on mutual trust that can easily be broken. Instead, he believes in non-belligerence agreements based on deterrence; peace through strength. And Israel needs buffer zones, what the world called the occupied territories. Especially because of Arab missiles, Israel needs that land for its protection.
It is now 1989, and he writes an autobiography called Warrior. He reviews the events of his life and definitively states his positions on the issues facing
Israel. He writes in the epilogue: “And we must say clearly that concern for our own survival does not permit the establishment of a second Palestinian state on the West Bank.” He means that Jordan was originally to be the Arab Palestine and there should not be a second Arab Palestine. He is willing to negotiate with Jordan and give them some of the areas that Israel has won in the Six Day war in return for a non-belligerence pact. But he is not willing to discuss giving back the Gaza Strip because it is Israel’s southern security belt. And as for what the world thinks, here is what he says:
“It would be wonderful to be liked by everybody, kissed by everybody, admired by everybody. That would be a fine thing…. But we have to exist, we have to develop. We must provide as normal a life as one might have in this region…. Our first job in this small and surrounded place here is to secure life.”
It is now 2001. And this man who had been scorned has made one of the most incredible political comebacks in history. He has now been elected Prime Minister of Israel. But now that he is not on the outside looking in, but has responsibility for his nation, he keeps saying, “The view from here is different than it was from there.” This man who said that there should not be another Arab Palestine is now willing to recognize another Arab Palestine. This man who said that Israel would never give the Gaza Strip away gives the Gaza Strip away without asking for anything at all in return.
Shortly after giving back Gaza, he has a massive stroke and falls into a deep coma. Our screenplay has come back to the opening scene. But moving out from the hospital room, we see that the whole world is affected. The President of the United States calls him “a man of peace.” You could say that it was ironic that he was called “a man of peace” after years of being a warrior. The interesting thing is that, if you could ask him, he would say that he always was a man of peace. He always wanted peace. He would say that sometimes you have to fight to get peace.
If you have listened to the plot of the screenplay and you haven’t known that I have been talking about Ariel Sharon, then ask yourself why you don’t know the first thing about Israel and resolve to read some books or take a class. Sharon is still technically alive but cannot function.
Until he fell into that coma, he was the Prime Minister of Israel and one of the major figures in Israeli history. He was a great man because he understood reality, and because he understood reality, he helped shape the realities of his time and place. But because he did understand reality, he also had the uncanny ability to reverse his positions. So the man who built the settlements in Gaza to defend Israeli security was the same man who dismantled the settlements in Gaza to defend Israeli security.
Sharon was not a thinker. He didn’t care much about ideas. He liked actions and facts. He lived organically, growing and changing. His values never, ever changed. He wanted peace and security for Israel. He wanted it when he was nine years old crying over an Arab massacre of Jewish settlers and he wanted it when he fought every one of the military and political battles of his life. And he wanted it when he made peace without a partner, when he made peace with those who wanted war. If you think his values changed, you are wrong.
You could say, “What a hypocrite! He changed his positions once he was in office.” But if you would say this, you would show that you do not understand greatness. And you would not understand a lesson for your own life.
Many people here assume that because I am a rabbi and pro-Israel, I think that everything that Israel has ever done is moral and good. Truth is always more complex than that. I may think that you are a moral and good person but this doesn’t mean that I agree with everything you do or every decision you make.
Each of us has to make a lot of decisions over the course of a lifetime and some of them are great and some of them work out ok and some of them, despite our thoughtful process, wind up being disasters. While you always have some principle that guides you, there are times that you realize that your decision, in effect, went against that very principle. The ability to make a decision and stick to it can be a sign of resolve and strength. But the tendency to stick to a decision that has not worked out is a sign of stubbornness and rigidity and is counter-productive to your original goal.
Every day of my life, I think about the scene at the Burning Bush when Moses asks G-d what His Name is. And G-d says” Ehyeh asher Ehyeh, I am becoming what I am becoming.” I think about this verse because this is what I must do and you must do; we must always be in a process of becoming. And that means flexibility.
The example of Sharon’s life is instructive for our lives. Sharon found that in life, as the situation around you changes, as reality changes, you must be willing to change the means in order to achieve the same end you always believed in. The view from here, the view now, is different than the view was from there, as it was then.
When you were there, you disagreed with the people who were already here.
And now that you’re here, you disagree with the people who are still back there.
But shouldn’t you allow for the fact that you will change?
Shouldn’t you know that the position you are so against now may be your position in the future, given changing realities? That to get to your consistent goal you’re probably going to have to change?
So why are you so resistant to other people’s opinions? And why don’t you listen to other people’s opinions? Why do you dismiss them so out of hand?
For those of you who think I don’t speak “high-falutin’” enough, let me use a couple of philosophical terms: Pre-messianism and Post-messianism.
I’ll explain the terms. Instead of thinking about a personal messiah coming and fixing everything, think about a messianic age when the world will be at peace.
Now, do you think that the world today is pre-Messianic or post-Messianic?
What is your view of the future of the world?
Do you live in the pre-messianic world that you expect will become ideal and utopian and wonderful?
Or do you live in a post-messianic world; do you have the view that the world will never become ideal, utopian or wonderful? I actually think that a better term would be a non-Messianist; you don’t believe the world will ever be wonderful.
If you’re like Ariel Sharon, you are a non-Messianist. You don’t think that Israel is ever going to have a real peace with the Arabs. You want to create an Israel that is safe and secure but you don’t visualize an ideal, utopian, perfect state. And if you’re a person who shares this view, you don’t really expect the world to change that much. So you prepare yourself. You prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
What happens to us in our lives? We have big dreams. We think that everything is going to be ideal.
And then it’s not ideal
And we get depressed
And we go to talk to people and we take medication and we do everything we can think of, but at the bottom there’s the stubborn fact that reality has not matched our dreams.
We were pre-Messianists, thinking we were going to get our ideal lives.
But then, after we get disappointed, we become post-messianists.
And we don’t do well with the change. We are disappointed by life. We are embittered with people. We say that we’re in the pit and we know who to blame.
But a real post-messianist, like Ariel Sharon, does not get discouraged and still seeks to work toward his original goal, a good life.
Just because other people are lousy doesn’t mean you should give up on your goal. You just have to realize that you’re not going to get it all but you’ve got a whole lot more than nothing.
Greatness means dealing in the reality of what is. Whether you are a pre-messianist who believes the world will be wonderful or a post-messianist who doesn’t think it will ever be wonderful, greatness is the ability to change to preserve your values.
I come now to the final scene of our screenplay. The old man on the hospital bed is now a young boy again, with his father. They’re on their farm. It’s hot, and they’re bone-tired. They’re working hard, and they don’t think that they can go on. But then they look back at what they’ve done so far, and they see everything that they’ve accomplished. In a way, they haven’t transformed that much, just a couple of fields that were barren and now yield crops. But they take satisfaction and pride in what they’ve done, and it gives them the strength to keep working.
That’s the way we have to see our lives. Will this world someday be a place of peace and goodness? I don’t know; I sure hope so; I sure pray so. Whether this is a pre-messianic or non-messianic world, we are not going to change the world.
But we can change a couple of fields, a few lives, some things in our community.
And when we get tired,
when we’re bone-tired,
when the sun is hot and we think we can’t go on,
we have to remember to look back on what we’ve done.
We have done some good things.
The view from here is different than the view from there; we can see the good we’ve done.
We will look back on what we’ve done. And this will give us the courage to face the road ahead.