Three months before returning to private life, outgoing Uruguayan President Dr. Tabare Vazquez received a delegation of Jewish leaders in advance of the holiday of Chanukah.

During the Dec. 7 sit-down in the presidential residence in Montevideo, Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Uruguay, presented Vazquez with a silver Chanukah menorah, explaining that the eight-day holiday inspires one to constantly reach higher levels, just as one additional candle is lit each night. The rabbi, who was joined by his wife Rochel Shemtov and several community leaders, also relayed that the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, once told a retiring politician that leaving elected office allowed him the possibility to exercise even more influence and that he should expand his communal activities and responsibilities.

When the conversation turned to the special challenges that Chabad faces in teaching religious values in a secular society, the president pointed out that people tend to misunderstand the meaning and purpose of the democratic principle of separation of church and state.

“It is not meant to combat or delegitimize religion,” said Vazquez. “Its purpose is to allow religion the same freedoms of expression as any other ideology and way of life.”

For his part, Shemtov stressed that even the most secular of societies would be better off if its legal and moral underpinnings were more dependent on responsibilities to one another – as in the Seven Noahide Laws – than upon a strict reliance on personal rights. During the meeting, the president asked the rabbi for a written proposal that would then be analyzed by government officials.