Do not cast them off in old age

In memory of Rabbi Yeshayahu Heber, founder of MATNAT CHAIM

The Parasha in the everyday life - Parashat Aharei Mot-Kedoshim - Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald - 5780

The crisis of the Corona pandemic affects mainly the elderly. They are more vulnerable than others, and there is a higher percentage who pass away. A significant part of the government's restriction policy is designed to keep them safe and healthy. And there were even those who were exposed to their loneliness. Now, with the ‘exit strategy’ applied, we must continue to take all precautions so that they keep safe. In terms of

אַֽל־תַּ֭שְׁלִיכֵנִי לְעֵ֣ת זִקְנָ֑ה כִּכְל֥וֹת כֹּ֝חִ֗י אַֽל־תַּעַזְבֵֽנִי׃

Do not cast me off in old age; when my strength fails, do not forsake me!” (Psalms 71:9).

In this connection we seek to deal with the old age as reflected in the Parasha. The Torah commands:

מִפְּנֵ֤י שֵׂיבָה֙ תָּק֔וּם וְהָדַרְתָּ֖ פְּנֵ֣י זָקֵ֑ן וְיָרֵ֥אתָ מֵּאֱלֹקיךָ אֲנִ֥י ה'׃

"You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old; you shall fear your G-d: I am Hashem”. (Vayikra 19:32).

The Tanahim gave different interpretations of the Pasuk and the Mitzvah: whether it is two different Mitzvot or one divided into two parts:

“מִפְּנֵ֤י שֵׂיבָה֙ תָּק֔וּם" You shall rise before the aged

“וְהָדַרְתָּ֖ פְּנֵ֣י זָקֵ֑ן” show deference to the old,

and whether this Mitzvah is only for the sake of wisdom or also for old ages’ sake. (See also Rashi and Ramban's on these Psukim).

  • The Sages taught with regard to the Pasuk: “Before the hoary head you shall stand and you shall revere the face of an elder, and you shall fear your G-d” (Vayikra 19:32): One might have thought that it is obligatory to stand before a simple [ashmai] elder. Therefore, the verse states: “elder,” and an “elder” means nothing other than a wise man (Kiddushin 32b)

According to Tanna Kama, it is one imperative Mitzvah where the two parts of it make it accurate, that the commandment is to honor an old man who is also wise. Which means that the Mitzvah is to mainly honor wisdom and if the old man is "ignorant" there is no Mitzvah to honor him (Tosfot ibid).

On the other hand, Rabbi Yosei HaGelili and Isi ben Yehuda say there are two Mitzvot: The honor to the ‘aged’ is to honor someone who is older even if he is not wise; and ‘old’ means a wise man even if he is younger: An “elder [zaken]” means nothing other than one who has acquired wisdom. He interprets the word zaken as a contraction of the phrase zeh kanna, meaning: This one has acquired…

 Isi ben Yehuda says that the verse: “Before the hoary head you shall stand,” indicates that even any person of hoary head is included in this mitzva, not only a Sage. (ibid)

The Gemara decides on the controversy:

“Rabbi Yoḥanan said: The halakha is in accordance with the opinion of Isi ben Yehuda”.  (Ibid 33a)

The Gemara relates: Rabbi Yoḥanan himself would stand before Aramean, i.e., gentile, elders. He said: How many experiences [harpatkei] have occurred to these individuals. It is appropriate to honor them, due to the wisdom they have garnered from their long lives. Rava would not stand before them, but he displayed reverence to them” (ibid).

Maimonides also ruled that the age itself should be respected including those who are not wise:

מִי שֶׁהוּא זָקֵן מֻפְלָג בְּזִקְנָה אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁאֵינוֹ חָכָם עוֹמְדִין לְפָנָיו. וַאֲפִלּוּ הֶחָכָם שֶׁהוּא יֶלֶד עוֹמֵד בִּפְנֵי הַזָּקֵן הַמֻּפְלָג בְּזִקְנָה. וְאֵינוֹ חַיָּב לַעֲמֹד מְלֹא קוֹמָתוֹ אֶלָּא כְּדֵי לְהַדְּרוֹ. וַאֲפִלּוּ זָקֵן כּוּתִי מְהַדְּרִין אוֹתוֹ בִּדְבָרִים וְנוֹתְנִין לוֹ יָד לְסָמְכוֹ שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ויקרא יט לב) "מִפְּנֵי שֵׂיבָה תָּקוּם" כָּל שֵׂיבָה בְּמַשְׁמָע:

“For one who is old and distinguished in age, though not a scholar, it is obligatory to rise up; even a young scholar should rise before an old man distinguished in age; but the obligation is not to rise before him in full height, only enough to honor him. It is proper to honor with words even the aged Kuthean and to give him a leaning hand, as it is said: "Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head", the inference being that it includes all hoary heads. (Mishneh Torah, Torah Study 6:9)

From this opinion, we can learn what is the meaning of the word ‘aged’;

 וכן מפני שיבה שהוא מופלג בזקנה דהיינו בן שבעים מצוה לקום מפניו

distinguished in age, meaning someone who is 70 years old. (Tur Yoreh Deah Siman 244).

The author of the Sefer HaChinuch explained the commandment of honoring the old: “The reason why a person should respect scholars and especially his teacher who teaches him wisdom, is because man’s whole reason for being on this earth is to acquire wisdom and to know the Creator. Therefore, it is fitting for people to respect the one who helps them achieve this” (Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 257).

Rabbeinu Yehonatan explained that their longevity indicates that G-d loves them and the world needs them.

The saying from the early 1960s: "The future of the world belongs to the youth of the world" represents a culture dedicated to youth. For it, old age represents an archaic, once-fixed, conservative, out of date in the world of technology and innovation, and irrelevant world. A world that has a limiting physicality and creates dependence.

It can be said that the attitude towards old age and youth is a touchstone of culture. Old age represents life's experiences, values ​​and tradition and balanced thinking and also of compassion and containment. Youth represents physical beauty and strength, dynamic vibrant vigor and revolutionary openness ('youth rebellion') and novelty, as well as a degree of adventure, and sometimes frivolous recklessness and dichotomous 'black and white' vision.

Judaism honors old age itself, and also because it represents wisdom. The "elders" have been the leadership of the Jewish people since the Egyptian exile, and so Moshe is commanded: לֵ֣ךְ וְאָֽסַפְתָּ֞ אֶת־זִקְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל

Go and assemble the elders of Israel" (Shmot 3:16).

The elders represent the continuity of the tradition they maintain from "fathers to sons"

משֶׁה קִבֵּל תּוֹרָה מִסִּינַי, וּמְסָרָהּ לִיהוֹשֻׁעַ, וִיהוֹשֻׁעַ לִזְקֵנִים…

Moshe received the Torah at Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua, Joshua to the elders, and the elders to… (Pirkei Avot 1:1) which is one of the foundations of Judaism, but also the wisdom, knowledge and life experience gained in their lifetime. And especially the equanimity that is so necessary for the continuation of Judaism. All of these are expressed with the appreciation and respect we show them.

In today’s Israel, the elderly also represent the generation that worked and made for the family and the country. Some also endured the Holocaust and Wars and claimed the burden of establishing the state, while the younger generation had the duty to prove themselves. These things do not negate the need for youthful energy and innovation, but call for a right and balanced combination between the two:

“The spirit of turbulent youth, awakened with valor, with the orderly spirit of aging, full of seriousness and caution, together unite the Society to take action in spiritual and material life, to speed up salvation, and to become a foundation for Hashem… (Shmonah Kvatzim 6:265).

Don't have an account yet? Register Now!

Sign in to your account