Friday, April 19, 2013

How Old Are You Now?

Is it just me, or the older you get, the smarter your parents´ become?

Growing older is the goal in life, tho it´s hard to see that through all the wrinkles.

 I remember once, while browsing through Hallmark, there was a card that caught my attention. It said, ¨Happy Birthday, Grandpa. You are 80 years young!¨

At first it saddened me. Why are people so afraid of growing older? Why do we need to to comfort ourselves by using the word young instead of old? Is the alternative to getting older any better?

But then I learned something important from that card.

Being young is amazing!

No, I´m not referring to the partying, metabolism, or the freedom of youth.

Being young is a blessing because of the endless opportunities open before us. A  younger person still has that child-like quality of being innocent, excited, trusting and hopeful, and they usually haven't been corrupted or fallen into despair yet.

But most importantly, they know  there is still so much about life that they don´t know. Children are constantly asking questions, desperate to know more, to understand more.
In this week´s parsha, Kedoshim, we´re taught  that 'You should show respect for your elders and fear your G-d'.

The Gemorah writes that zaken, an elderly person stands for ze she-kana chochma; he who has acquired wisdom.

The wise man in his youth grasps things theoretically, but as he grows older, he sees that which was described to him become real and actual. The experience of life itself transforms intellectual theory and logic into reality and fact, which causes this knowledge to be ingrained within his being. Wisdom which was previously cold, impersonal, and abstract now becomes apparent. 

Our elders serve as a beacon of knowledge, who, through their life experiences, have been able to acquire Torah perception in its truest sense.

 No matter who he is, just by living life and experiencing so many challenges, and making so many mistakes, he automatically acquires a level of wisdom that no young person has, no matter how high the latter's IQ level.

Rav Yochanan, it's noted, was accustomed to rising before any elderly person, including non Jews, simply because of the wisdom they possessed.

It states in Pirkei Avos, perek 4 possuk 15 "The fear of your teacher shall be similar to your fear of heaven".

Chazal in various places have described in clear terms the severe punishments for those who do not show proper respect to their Torah teachers.

The rationale for this is that improper respect for teachers and elders weaken their leadership and diminish their overall influence on us. Lack of respect for elders means, in effect, the elimination of Torah leadership.

The Jewish people are different from other nations in that we cannot survive without the institution of "elders". Although other nations can exist without being led by sages or elders, it is Klal Yisroel's uniqueness that make our elders a necessity rather than a luxury.

Surpassing the power of the elders is tantamount to striking a fatal blow at the very core of the life force of the Jewish people. They are a link in the chain of Torah transmission from Har Sinai.

There's a well known story about Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky who was once traveling on an airplane with his grandson. Seated next to him was a secular Jewish observer, an evolutionist, who was watching in amazement how much unwavering respect the Rav's grandson kept honoring him with.

Finally he approached R' Yaakov and told him he has never seen anything like that before. He asked him why his grandson honored him so deeply and served him with so much respect.

 "It's simple", R' Yaakov responded. "In your belief, you are two generations closer than your grandson is to your ancestors, who were monkeys. You are greater than them, and your grandson is even greater than you. In our belief system, I am two generations closer to my ancestors who received the Torah. They were much holier that me. My grandson feels that awesomeness and therefore treats me with so much respect." 

Looking around at the world today, who are our role models? Whose pictures are teenagers hanging up on their bedroom walls? Definitely nobody over the age of 30. And nobody with too much wisdom, or too many morals.

Someone whose exterior is more significant to them than their interior panics at the thought of getting old. What's left to life after it's lived?

As Jews, we understand that life is even more lived as we age. Age symbolizes true wisdom.

The soul never ages; the body ages alone.

 Living life as a body can be highly depressing as the wrinkles appear and gravity does its job. But living life as it really is, as a soul, keeps us young forever, even as our wisdom advances.

As we get older, we must remain young. We need to keep asking, keep learning, keep growing, keep changing. We need to realize that although we have gained lots of wisdom, there is still so much more to learn.

As we get older we keep learning more about ourselves, and how we can better complete ourselves, enabling us to help those with less experience.

And, maybe we, the youthful, will look at our parents and grandparents through a different light and turn to them for advice in areas where they may be able to guide us.

 One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it’s worth watching.

Have a great shabbos!