I have a close friend, a bit of an activist, who once bumped into Elyakim Rubinstein, who was then the Attorney General. Rubinstein said to my friend, “The great Maimonides always advocated that people follow The Golden Mean. You should avoid extremism and stay close to the middle.” Sharp as a tack, my friend retorted, “You know, in the shtetl, the horses would walk in the middle of the street. The people walked on the sides.”
Say what you will about Shimon Peres, he is not one to walk in the middle of the street. Throughout his life, he has taken controversial positions, some that I agree with, others that I don’t. Regardless, it is difficult not to feel respect for someone who has led this country as Peres did, fought for it, and, perhaps most importantly, represented Israel with dignity and honor in every corner of the globe.
At 90, Peres is not content to sit back and write his memoirs. He is still active, involved and a player on every level. That is something to be greatly admired and a characteristic to (hopefully) be emulated. When my grandmother died at the age of 100, I eulogized her at the funeral. I noted the famous saying from the Mishna, “at 100, a person is considered dead, passed (over) and ceased (batel) from the world.” That is where the phrase over-batel, used to describe the doddering elderly comes from. I suggested an alternate interpretation of those words. Over – as in apart or transcendent, and batel, meaning dismissive or indifferent – but not in the sense of jaded or cynical – rather more along the lines of seeing things from a distance. Someone who has watched a century of history has a very special vantage point and views the world with wisdom and experience. From that perspective he has seen major events and trends played out over enough time to understand that even the most brilliant, meticulously calculated, and even well meaning campaigns, strategies, and movements succeed or fall based more on external events and chance occurrences than on human design. Man plans and God laughs, goes the Yiddish adage. After a very long life, one is rarely surprised and doesn’t get particularly excited about new ideas and the latest trends. The view from that age can engender a more passive position, one of watching and standing by, instead of acting, directing, planning to change the world with enthusiasm and excitement.
Shimon Peres has not reached that point yet. As Tony Blair mentioned at #tomorrow13, Peres once told him he would rather be in the history book than in the guest book. Who knows what the next decade has in store for him, for Israel, and for the world?