By Rabbi Ariel Abel
Shimon Peres, born Szymon Perski in 1923 in what is now Belarus, is the longest serving statesman since the inception of Israel. So what does the Torah say about a statesman who steps down from serving his country? Shimon Peres has, since 1948, arranged crucial negotiations for the Jewish state. In the Bible, kings are not the most powerful people. The kingmakers, who were then the prophets, decided on matters of regional importance, nationally and regionally.
Out of 70 years’ public service, Peres has had a distinguished political career as Member of Knesset for 48 years. Longevity of service is considered to be a blessing in the Torah. Moses worked in a political role for 80 years, and liberated Israel. Peres played a great role in liberating the descendants of a slave nation, who in 1948 were once again liberated to sovereign nationhood.
Peres was twice Prime Minister. Stepping down from service was not an easy matter for Moses, who had to give up his dream of entering the Holy Land, the last phase of his life’s natural work. Shimon Peres has always worked for and dreamed of peace, which eludes Israel until today. During his career, Peres tried several times to broker deals that were agreed to by prime ministers and then prevented from implementation at the last minute. Another challenge of stepping down is the question of who will take over.
In ancient times, leaders were appointed to carry on the legacy of a specific leader. Joshua took over from Moses, but not before there was a formal handing over of power. Jewish prophets appointed and demoted kings in Judea, Israel and even in foreign countries. Continuity, such as the male line in families, was always a sought after commodity in the Middle East.
However, Israel is a secular democracy and once a political life is over, the contributions an individual has made is at an end. Unless Peres continues as an ambassador unto the nations, his legacy will wane. Peres is possibly the only Israeli statesman alive who can preach and even bring peace. Perhaps in his case, stepping down will only be a formal step, and he will be busier in retirement than in office. Peres has dedicated a lifetime not only to security and diplomacy in a bid to protect Israel and ensure its survival but also its welfare and wellbeing. May he enjoy a long and productive retirement!
• Rabbi Ariel Abel is consultant to the For Life Projects, NW region