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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Tanach

Biblical Lessons

597
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There are different traditions regarding the length of the career of our father Avraham. There is a well known Midrash that states that his epiphany of discovering the one universal God occurred while he was yet a child - three years old. Other traditions, among them Maimonides, place this event when he was forty eight or fifty two years old. However and whenever the correct date may be it is clear that Avraham accomplished much when he was already hoary with years.

Isaac is born unto him when he is already a century old and the Akeidah - his supreme test in life - occurs when he is one hundred thirty-seven years old. The Torah tells us that Avraham lived for one hundred seventy-five years. Thus, much of his accomplishments and influence on his generation occurred during the later, mature years of his life.

The rabbis always recognized age and maturity of years as an advantage in life. Though physically our bodies weaken with advancing years, spiritually and certainly experience-wise we are able to grow stronger and wiser. The Talmud phrased it succinctly: "Even if great wisdom is not apparently present in one, but age and experience is certainly here."

Respect for the elderly is a basic tenet of Judaism. The Torah commands us to rise in honor of the aged and to give allegiance and respect to elders. Even if God forbid they are no longer mentally acute, they are nevertheless deserving of this honor and respect. The rabbis used a metaphor to illustrate this point - that even the broken and shattered shards of the tablets of Sinai (that were broken by Moshe) also resided within the Holy Ark.

We live in an age that worships youth. Most product and consumer advertising is directed towards the youthful market. Fortunes are spent to somehow disguise the fact that we are growing older. I know from my rabbinic experience that every congregation wants to have a thirty year old rabbi, preferably with twenty years of experience on the job.

It is widely known that people in their fifties will not be deemed to be employable by most corporations and business concerns. Thus a vast pool of experience and talent, accumulated wisdom and practicality, lies unexploited and disregarded. There are many forces, both economic and social in play here that lead to these types of policies but the end sum is the same - being older is a detriment in our society’s workplace and milieu and it is definitely a disadvantage.

What would our father Avraham say to such a situation? I cannot speak for him but it is clear that even until his last days he did not see himself retired from guiding, advising and inspiring his generation. Even in his later decades he was recognized as the "prince of God who resides in the midst of our society."

The Torah says of him that at his demise he arrived with all of his days in hand. All of his days were exploited and dedicated towards the fulfillment of the Godly mission that he had set for himself. Age becomes an asset and an ornament to great figures such as Avraham.

Since I am no longer young myself, some may view this article as being a self serving one. Be that as it may truly be, it does not diminish in my opinion the truth of the message that age brings with it experience, guidance and is therefore most worthy of respect, honor and care.

Care for aging parents is not an easy challenge to overcome. The senior citizen and nursing homes that now abound and are such a part of our economies and lives provide a partial answer to this challenge. But they are certainly not the complete solution to the problem and difficulties raised in caring for aged people. It is clear that the advances in medical treatments and the lengthening of expected life spans have made the problem much more acute now than it was even fifty years ago.

There are families that see the caring for their aged members a privilege and an honor. Not everyone rises to that level of selflessness. We constantly read of family tragedies that are occasioned by the problems of caring for the aged members of the family.

Somehow it is a matter of attitude towards the elderly that can change a burden into a privilege. And it is this attitude that the Torah comes to emphasize and inform. May we all be blessed to come to the fullness of our lives with all of our days attached to us in serenity and achievement.
Rabbi Dov Berl Wein
The rabbi of the "HANASI" congregation in Yerushalim, head of the Destiny foundation, former head of the OU, Rosh Yeshiva of 'sharai Tora" and rabbi of the "Beit Tora" congregation, Monsey, New York.
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