Our Torah portion opens with a choice. Between life and death. Between good and evil. And if we live a life of mitzvoth, if we walk in God’s ways, we will find blessing in the land of Israel. And if we live by idols and worship other gods, then will not prolong our days in the land. Well, Shimon Peres, alav ha’shalom, lived a long life, and a long life in the land of Israel, because, among other gifts, he chose life and good and filled his passion for service and his love for Israel, with this virtuous choice.
The death of President Peres makes me very sad. Like his compatriot, Yitzhak Rabin, z”l, Peres was a chayal (a warrior) and a rodef shalom (a pursuer of peace). Perhaps no one did more to build up Israel’s military strength, and yet, Peres also became a Nobel Peace laureate. Like Rabin and other Jewish heroes throughout history, Peres was complex and human, less than perfect but so admirable. He sought a morality in life that “keeps humans human.” And, although he fought his share of wars and committed acts of great violence, he came to champion shalom, peace for his land and people, and their shleimut, their wholeness.
Peres was visionary, even prophetic--a dreamer from his earliest days. “From my earliest youth,” he writes. “I have known that while one is obliged to plan with care the stages of one's journey, one is entitled to dream, and keep dreaming, of its destination.” And, given today’s violence between Israelis and Palestinians or on the streets of Aleppo or Chicago or in malls and schools and communities across America and the world, Peres evokes the voice of Isaiah, when he says: “I don't think anybody who carries a rifle carries the future. Because I don't believe that you can really change the world by killing and shooting. You have to change it by creating and competing.” Compare this wisdom with that of the navi: “And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, And never again will they learn war.(Is. 2:4)."
Peres was also pragmatic. Peace is not something forged between friends but between enemies, “unsavory” enemies. And because the Palestinians are Israel’s closest neighbor, he hoped that they would someday become the closest of friends. To this end, he had some great advice for all of us: “I think peace should be done not only among governments but among people.” In the same breath, Peres also said such peace was impossible before “the Facebook” as he called it. But he’s right about the power of community organizing and personal, civic engagement in effecting change and the extent to which Facebook can help mobilize ordinary citizens. It’s not enough to let our governments do all the work toward peace and prosperity. Each of us must step up. Each of us must lean in. And, we all have to put down the mobile phone and the laptop, at least long enough hit the streets in pursuit of shalom and tikkun olam. Not even the Facebook is enough to do the work for us.
Last but not least, Peres embodied the mitzvah of ahavat Yisrael, the love of Israel. He built and led it with distinction. And for Israel, Peres felt great pride: “In Israel, a land lacking in natural resources, we learned to appreciate our greatest national advantage: our minds. Through creativity and innovation, we transformed barren deserts into flourishing fields and pioneered new frontiers in science and technology.”
Like our ancestors stood at Sinai long, long ago, with special attention focused on the power of good choices, Peres stood with similar concentration. Through his leadership and mentschlikeit, Peres charged us “to find a cause that's larger than yourself and then to give your life to it.” An important, enduring lesson left to us by a great man, who gave his life to Israel, to peace, and to healing our world. Shimon Peres, zikhronkha livrakha! May your memory be a blessing. Shabbat shalom and shanah tovah!