Humility and Grandeur: The Legacy of Menachem Begin
The 25th anniversary of the passing of Menachem Begin was commemorated in Israel this week. Begin, Israel’s sixth Prime Minister was the most religious leader Israel had known.
In 1977, shortly after having been elected, Begin traveled to the United States, in order to meet with President Carter. En route to D.C., Begin insisted on stopping in New York, in order to also receive a blessing from the Lubavitcher Rebbe and Rabbi Soloveitchik, before his meeting with the president.
In addition to his spiritual sensitivity, Begin was also endowed with a profound sense of historical consciousness. When asked by an American reporter about his meeting with President Carter, Begin began his answer by stating that today is Tisha be’Av, a day dedicated to lamenting historical catastrophes that the Jewish people underwent throughout history.
After that, Begin moved on to speak about the burden of responsibility that he feels as Israel’s leader today, to prevent the destruction of Israel and another historical catastrophe.
During his time in office, Begin achieved peace with Egypt, and it was under his leadership that Israel destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor. Tragically, after the Lebanon War of 1982, Begin sank into a deep clinical depression, resigned from office midterm, and spent the remaining seven years of his life at home, in seclusion and passivity.
In his will, Begin asked not to be interred on Mount Herzl, where all the state dignitaries and leaders are brought to eternal rest. Begin asked for a private ordinary funeral, with no ceremonious elements, accolades, or eulogies. Begin lived modestly, in a rent-controlled apartment in Jerusalem on the ground floor.
In an age of arrogant and ego-driven leadership, Begin’s humility and grandeur loom larger than ever. For Begin, life was service, leadership – a sacred calling, and political office – a burdensome responsibility. May his repose be in Paradise, and may his successors strive to emulate his worthy ways, Amen.