Beit Midrash

  • Family and Society
  • The Nation of Israel
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

Simha bat Hana

Old Of Age but Young Of Spirit

The Tribe of Judah – and hence we, the entire people of Israel – were blessed that we should be a “lion cub” (Gen. 49:8). “Cub” signifies the potential of youth; “lion” betokens the force of maturity. We are capable of being at once a cub and a lion.


Rabbi S. Yossef Weitzen

We are the most ancient nation in the world, yet despite our age we feel young. The national resurrection which the people of Israel have experienced in the present age has infused us with a sense of youthfulness. God's kindness towards us and the rejuvenation of our national potentials awaken in us a sense of the fulfillment of that which is written in the Book of Psalms (103:4,5): "Who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with kindness and mercy."

The Tribe of Judah – and with it the entire people of Israel – have been blessed that they should be a "lion cub" (Genesis 49:8). "Cub" signifies the potential of youth; "lion" betokens the force of maturity and age. We are capable of being at once a cub and a lion.

Maturity possesses that which youth lacks, and youth is endowed with that which maturity has not, for better of worse. On the one hand, maturity is accompanied by experience, realism, patience, and staying power in the face of manifold changes. On the other hand, however, it is liable to be accompanied by fatigue, passiveness, and fixed modes of thinking.

Youth brings with it, on the one hand, the capacity for renewal and the willingness to take on responsibilities, while, on the other hand, it is liable to cause illusions and to draw a person to ideas that have not been proven beneficial. It can breed a desire to achieve results at any price – even at the price of ignoring the red lights along the way.

There were generations in which the people of Israel evinced principally youthful attributes; there were other generation wherein it was the mature faculty that bolstered the nation and preserved it. In those generations in which the Jewish people carried out great upheavals, it was the youthful forces that dominated. This was the case in the days of Joshua, King David, Ezra and Nehemiah, and Rabbi Akiva. Maturity, on the other hand, kept us going for the most part in those generations in which we needed to bolster and safeguard the achievements of previous revolutions. In the exile, for example, the trait which was most responsible for maintaining us was our mature wisdom and our fantastic capacity for survival.

What about today, the present generation? Are we "young" or "old"?
It appears to me that for the generation which witnessed the establishment of the state of Israel youthfulness was the driving force. Certainly the hidden engine behind all of the youthful energies which erupted at that time was a very old engine, but it was very hidden. At present it appears that the Almighty is bringing us to a situation in which we must attach ourselves once again with added might to our capacity for maturity. We belong to a generation in which we can forfeit neither young nor old traits. The fact that both of these traits exist within us is what impedes our ability to function.

The danger which we presently find ourselves in stems from the fact that we are drawn to the negative aspects of both our young and old traits. Our hope and our message is proper usage of each of these faculties.

The unilateral disengagement plan stems, on the one hand, from fatigue and passivity. After the great effort invested in the establishment of the state and the enormous youthful energies which propelled a course of change and self-reliance, a negative maturity has taken hold of us. There is fatigue in the face of the continuing upheaval which we began a generation ago. Every war and every act of terror puts another wrinkle upon our aging national face. We have witnessed a shift from initiative and leadership to survival and conservation. On the other hand, disengagement derives from that youthful spirit which calls for here-and-now solutions. What is important, according to this approach, is achieving clear results according to a predetermined time-line. Straying from the path is unacceptable. There is no patience or possibility of reassessment of the chosen path. The red lights along the way are ignored due to a complex mental state.
The rectification which we have the ability to carry out calls for taking the reigns of the extraordinary capacities contained within us and using them correctly.

Our mature capacity need not lead to fatigue and inability to act. We can learn from the manner in which the Patriarch Abraham utilized his maturity as a propelling life-giving force. "Abraham was old, well advanced in years and God had blessed Abraham with everything" (Genesis 24:1). Regarding Sarah it is written, "Sarah had lived to be 127 years old" (ibid. 23:1) The commentators explain that Sarah merited that her youthfulness and her maturity found such harmonious expression in her that even when she was a hundred years old she retained the spirit of a seven year old and a twenty year old. In the case of Sarah this was not just a metaphor but a real and actual phenomenon. By virtue of her vitality in old age she was able to return to the days of her youth: "Now that I am worn out, shall I once again regain my youth?" (Genesis 18:12).

The mature force within us provides us with vast perseverance in the face of the many events taking place around us. For two thousand years we have harbored an unshakable allegiance to the land of Israel, allegiance to the faith of Israel, and the God of Israel. It is inconceivable that we be broken at this hour as we enter the final stretch. We have no doubts that the Land of Israel is worth the entire long path that we have traveled.

The personage that we must set before ourselves and emulate is that of Caleb ben Yefuneh, who, even at an advanced age and battle-weathered, continued forward with yet the same might. He abated not the battle cry of his youth: "Let us go up and take possession of her (the Holy Land), for we are capable of it." Here, at the age of eighty five, just prior to the battle for Hebron, he declares:

"And now, behold, the lord has kept me alive as he said these forty-five years even since the Lord spoke this word to Moses while the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness. And now, lo, I am this year eighty-five years old. As yet I am as strong this day as I was in the day that Moses sent me; as my strength was then, so is my strength now, for war, both to go out and to come in" (Joshua 14:10-11).

Neither are we merely "continuing" by virtue of the force of our maturity. We must utilize the great combination of forces which we possess within us and find the youthful talents which will help us to continue making the vision a reality.

Like an aged and experienced individual who has seen much in his lifetime and is no longer startled or frightened to take a minority position - such a person knows that time will make the difference and his faithfulness to eternal values will prove the "winning card" - we too must adopt a mature trust in eternal values, in a goal and a line of approach which will eventually emerge victorious.

The youthful force will instill in us the energies to persist in making the vision a reality. We shall look for new channels by which we will be able to express our vision. We shall start each day as if the idea of the vision was just now born. Outwardly, it appears as if the struggles for which we exerted ourselves yesterday are the same struggles for which we today exert ourselves. In truth, however, when one looks more deeply, one day cannot be compared to another. Every additional day of continued struggle for the realization of the goal teaches us that an even greater goal is already present in our midst.

The Sages teach that if a person's prayers are not answered, he should iterate his supplication even a hundred or a thousand times. Yet, is the first prayer uttered by such an individual any different than the thousandth? Outwardly, it appears to be the same prayer – the same words, the same place – but a more penetrating look reveals that each prayer achieves progress. By the thousandth prayer, we find that the supplicant has reached a totally different place. The capacity to pray the thousandth time comes from a completely different place than the first prayer. In order to pray a thousand times one needs a spiritual depth of a completely different level than that needed to pray once.

The greatness of our vision is what causes us to have to pass through many stations and face many tests before we finally succeed in achieving our goal. Yet, it is always important to remember that we are not stuck in one place. Rather, we are forever advancing. And while it is true that there is some progress which we can see clearly with our own eyes, most of the progress is of a hidden, inner nature.

Despite - and due to - all of the obstructions, all of the votes and the doubts, we push forward with yet greater vigor and certainty. We, as a wise old nation with a past that goes back thousands of years, can happily and sturdily push forward tens of years more in order to achieve the goal. As a young nation, we can find the talents necessary to increase and disseminate our faith - even by paths which we have hitherto not walked upon. Judah is a lion cub!

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