At our age, a man begins to develop a certain interest in the black-bordered notices on the obituary page. You find friends and acquaintances there every day. Those who live long become sought-after eulogizers. Eulogizing becomes a way of life.
The mourners of Zion and Jerusalem are happy, even in their sorrow, to invite VIPs, and especially politicians, to say "a few words" at the graveside that transform private grief into public grief. And the VIPs, for their part, are loath to turn down a grieving family. Sometimes they know the deceased personally, as a childhood friend. Sometimes they don't remember him at all, or very vaguely. Recollections of the deceased may be so faint that the eulogizer has no choice but to scrape up words from the funeral parlor floor or trot out the old cliches used on such occasions from time immemorial. It is not unheard of for a desperate eulogizer to quote David's famous lament for Saul and Jonathan. So is it any surprise that we don't always see the person for the shrouds? Was the dearly departed a contributor, or the kind who pocketed contributions?
Actually, these sad "post-mortem" musings favorably point to the eulogy of Israel's president at the graveside of a certain "peace activist," one which was surprisingly original. "We were angry at Abie Nathan for not doing as others did. We were angry at him for crossing borders, for breaking laws. But woe to us if he had listened to us," said Shimon Peres.
That is not as simple and self-evident as it sounds. There is much more profundity and meaning in this statement than the brain can absorb in one sitting. It also sheds new light on our history and those who star in it. Words fly out of our mouths and disappear before we know it, but this remark is bound to linger for a long time to come.
First, it is clear the president knew who the deceased was, despite being overloaded with official duties, which can tend to be confusing. Secondly, it has taken nearly 30 years, but the accused has had his name cleared and his reputation restored in a grand public gesture. When we visited the prisoner in jail every Shabbat and brooded over the reasons for his arrest, Israel's future president was already sitting there, writing notes for a beautiful eulogy. Imagine that.
So it was worthwhile, Abie. Every minute behind lock and key was worthwhile. Not only have you been pardoned, but you have been set up as a role model.
Thirdly - and most importantly - everyone knows that Peres is not a man imprisoned in the past. He is always looking forward, to the future, to his dreams. If not for the shackles of political life and collective responsibility that have chained him down, his young, subversive spirit would have soared long ago.
And what this spirit is saying to us today is this: Don't be so impressed by our anger and our outbursts of fury. One day, the anger will subside and be replaced by applause. In your lifetime, you will be penalized, but in death you will be celebrated. We come not to bury you but to praise you.
When you see us - your political leaders, and me - in our impotence, our cowardice, our blindness and our folly, use your own judgment. Follow your conscience. Don't pay attention to our nonsense. Woe to you if you listen to us. And don't say I didn't warn you.
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