Sharon and Messi: Lions in the field

Two worldly leonine personalities, one named Ariel and the other Lionel, were both honored at separate and very different ceremonies on Monday January 13, 2014. The two lions were both acclaimed yet also tamed.

Ariel Sharon, whose name means “Lion of G-d”, was finally laid to rest on his farm in the Negev, after leading an illustrious yet controversial life, having fought on many a battlefield in a life which spanned 85 years. In fact as early as age fourteen he joined a group of Jewish guerillas in order to fight against the British forces and drive them out of mandated Palestine. He then went on to play a decisive role in each of Israel’s wars from the War of Independence in which he was wounded at the battle for Latrun through till the Lebanon War in 1982, in which his role in the Sabra and Shatila massacre, he would probably have preferred to forget.
He himself chose the title “Warrior” for his autobiography, a life in which his battles were waged on the battlefield, but later also in the political and legal fields.

In his time Sharon endured many personal battles and suffered many personal tragedies – not least of which was the loss of his first son Gur, who was tragically killed aged 11, by a stray bullet while playing with a family rifle together with a friend.
Gur is also a name associated with the lion family. In Genesis 49:9 we read: “Gur Ariyeh Yehudah” (The cub of a lion is Judah), describing Jacob blessing his fourth son Judah.

Lionel Leo Messi, whose first name also means “little lion”, fights his battles on the world’s hardest fought football fields and most glamorous stadiums. He does not play for Arsenal (also known as the Gunners), England’s current Premier League leaders, but rather is the most celebrated of all the current world class players in the famous and majestic F.C. Barcelona team.

His first major life battle began when also aged 11 as a tiny cub himself, he was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency. As a highly talented football player he would require expensive hormonal treatment if he was to realize his football potential. His parents could not afford the treatment. F.C. Barcelona was so impressed with the young Messi that they offered to pay for his treatments if he joined their academy as a young cadet.

So at the tender age of thirteen, Messi moved to Barcelona together with his parents and the success he has subsequently enjoyed there has been unprecedented.

After winning the World FIFA Ballon d’Or Player of the Year Award for four consecutive years from 2009 – 2012, he was once again one of three players shortlisted for the 2013 award. However this time it was not to be as he was tamed by his arch rival Christiano Ronaldo, who on Monday evening was chosen as the World’s Best Footballer of the year for 2013.

Ariel and Lionel both lions by name, in character and even in their facial features, were tamed on the same day, but certainly not defeated.

Messi did take the stage Monday at the FIFA Awards Ceremony to pick up a different albeit less illustrious medal, chosen in the FIFPro World XI line up – a dream roster of the 11 best players from around the world regardless of clubs. He untypically stood out wearing a bright blood colored suit, this in stark contrast to the darker attire worn by his fellow medalists.

Could this have been a message the modest yet fiercely competitive Messi wanted to convey? Could he possibly have been stating:”I concede the Best Player Award for 2013, but I am still here, whole hearted and full of strength and energy to continue the battle for the ultimate crown.”

Many football fans have already crowned Messi as the greatest footballer of all time. That bright red suit worn by the Argentinian star however, seemed to convey that he himself is not yet satisfied and is still waging that battle.

Indeed, while Lionel Messi, has now been dethroned as the current King of Football, at 26 years old, he remains a hero to millions of fans around the globe and still does have a few more years in which to regain his reign. With the 2014 Football World Cup to be played in Brazil just a few months away, Messi together with the help of his Argentinian teammates, will certainly have a golden opportunity to prove a point.

Ariel Sharon’s military and political career too had many ups and downs, yet he is widely regarded as the greatest of all Israel’s Military commanders.

Although he leaves behind a considerable number of critics, both Jewish and Arab, he is also acclaimed as being Israel’s most popular Prime Minister to date, having served in that position from 2001 – 2006.
After surrendering in his final battle, having spent his last eight years in a coma after suffering a massive stroke in 2006, Sharon is now buried next to his wife Lily on his Negev farm “Sycamore Ranch.”

As the Jewish People prepare for Tu B’Shvat, the Festival that celebrates the Birthday of the trees this evening and tomorrow, I am reminded of the Torah phrase quoted by many when Tu B’Shvat approaches.

“Man is a tree in the field.” (Deut 20:19)

Albeit in the shadow of his more military image, Sharon’s connection to the land was always prevalent. As he now rests under the shade of his sycamore trees, there are still unfortunately other far more dangerous and crueler lions still prowling the region.

Just north of the Israeli border in Syria for example, the Assad (meaning lion) dynasty has ruled the roost there for many decades and the law of the jungle is now more rampant there than ever. The entire region remains fraught with potential danger with a multitude of panthers capable of suddenly leaping out from various locations.

But in the city at the heart of the Middle East Conflict, lieth a lion amidst the branches of peace. The name Jerusalem itself means “abode of peace”. The city’s very symbol has the lion of Judah at its center with olive branches on either side.

The region still licking its wounds after many a battle fought, continues to look for a solution with Palestinian – Israeli Peace Talks currently prevailing. As Ariel Sharon finally rests alongside his beloved Lily and the children of Israel prepare to plant the seeds and saplings at Tu B’Shvat, it seems like a good opportunity now more than ever before for us and our aspiring peace makers, to listen to the words of the song ‘Sycamore Tree’

“From high above in the strong arms of the sycamore tree
You could hear forgiveness in the wind
Singin’ out, “Find the truth and the truth will set you free”
Broken chains and a heart on the mend
‘Neath the sycamore tree, oh

And like an answer to his praying
As he watched his child playing
High above in the strong arms of the sycamore tree
You could hear a small voice in the wind
Sayin’, “Please Daddy won’t you come and play with me”
In the sycamore tree
The sycamore tree
Forgiveness will set you free”

“The cub of a lion is Judah, from the prey my son you elevated yourself” (Genesis 49;9)

About the Author
David Skolni is a South African immigrant. He came to live in Israel in 1982. He is a special needs teacher and a practitioner in the Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education. His current interest is in the connections between body, movement and Judaism.
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