In his recent memoir, written with the historian Gil Troy, the refusenik-turned-Israeli politician-turned-Jewish Agency leader Natan Sharansky explores the lessons learned in his career in the service of the Jewish people following his release from Soviet prison. One of the book’s themes is the balancing of the universal with the particular. In this connection, Sharansky appeals to the twin biblical models of the particularist David and the universalist Isaiah—contrasting “Davidian” Israelis interested in building the Jewish homeland, by force if necessary, with American Jewish “Isaiahans,” focused on peace, human rights, and social justice. To Meir Soloveichik, Sharansky exemplifies the successful and heroic bridging of these two poles, but fails at his biblical interpretation:
The hard truth . . . is that often Israelis have missed the essence of David’s greatness, while American Jewish critics of Israel are actually ignoring Isaiah. David is more than a warrior; as Sharansky explains in his 1988 memoir, he learned from David that a constant awareness of God allowed one to “fear no evil” (the title of that great book) in the valley of the shadow of death. David defended his people but sought to remind Israel of the God Who was the source of his victory. That is why David’s truest legacy is not his defeat of Goliath but his vision of Jerusalem, a city crowned by a Temple that is an eternal locus of Jewish identity.
Interestingly, Sharansky’s own recognition of this fact inspired his greatest moment in government. As he recounts in Never Alone, he was the first to pull out of Ehud Barak’s coalition when Israel’s then-prime minister offered Yasir Arafat control of the Temple Mount. Sharansky’s resignation helped lead to the fall of Barak’s government. If Sharansky and his fellow Russian Jews, rather than Israel’s religious parties, were the first to abandon Barak, it was because, he reflects, “the connection linking our identity with the liberation of Jerusalem and the Western Wall was fresh. We hadn’t been around long enough to take it for granted. Maybe we were also the most protective of Jerusalem’s centrality to the Jewish story.” In the end, it was not Barak, the sabra warrior, but the refusenik immigrant who was the truest Davidian.
In a similar sense, many American Jews who think they are following Isaiah’s path fundamentally misconstrue him. Isaiah’s universal vision is predicated on the defeat of evil and the recognition of the Jewish right to Jerusalem. . . . Isaiah foresees a world at peace once it has come to know the God of Jerusalem and the moral truths Judaism has always preached.
In this way, Soloveichik writes, the dichotomy between the universal and particular is “the perfect prism through which we can see Sharansky’s own greatness.”