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Investing More in Seniors #682

06/18/2021 05:12:00 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashat Chukat

“You are not obliged to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” (Pirkei Avot 2:16)

Investing More in Seniors

I had a minor revelation this week while having lunch with a colleague who is writing a book focused on Torah wisdom for seniors.

We as Jews dedicate so much of our educational resources toward children, who we rightly regard as the beacons of our future.

But is it possible that we are not paying enough attention to other age groups?

A Pew Research Center survey released a few years ago concluded that Jews are better educated than any other religious group — with an average of 13.4 years of schooling, and a majority going on to college.

There are many reasons for this. In part, within an ever-changing world landscape, where anti-Semitism can rear its head with little warning, it is important that we raise smart, well-educated and independent young people with the capacity not only to survive, but also to thrive.

Yet, while we invest so much in the education of our children, it remains to be seen whether Jewish institutions are doing enough to elevate, empower and uplift seniors.

This month, as I approach another birthday, I am slowly reaching the realization that some of what I wanted to accomplish in my lifetime may not be achieved.

I’ve have two screen plays on my mind: There are places I still want to visit, and I’d like to change the world — perhaps lead a small congregation in Israel.

About 2,000 years ago, the great Rabbi Tarfon looked at life’s opportunities, and concluded that none of us will — at the end of our days – achieve everything we wanted.

But, he noted, that is no reason to give up or walk away.

His words are recorded in Pirkei Avot — Judaism’s primary collection of ancient rabbinical wisdom. He teach us: “You are not obliged to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” (Pirkei Avot 2:16)

Sage words for Rabbi Tarfon’s time — and for ours.

It reminds us that while each of us enters this world with plans, not all of them will come to pass. Yet, as Rabbi Tarfon inspires us to consider, there is something sacred in the doing.

In this week’s Torah reading, our attention turns, in part, to the seniors who lead us — and the imperative of the Jewish people to facilitate continuity.

In this week’s Parashah, Chukat, (“This is the law”) — Moses’ siblings, Aaron and Miriam, die.

Aaron, was known as a “Rodef Shalom,” a pursuer of peace. He was the glue that kept an often-demoralized people together. Miriam was a prophet. She could always identify sources of water; she was also one of Moses’ spiritual advisors.

After she dies, Moses can’t seem to locate the water source. In anger and frustration, he strikes a water-giving rock. God punishes him, denying Moses the opportunity to enter the Promised Land.

Yet, if not for the enduring teachings of Aaron, Miriam and Moses, Judaism would have likely died in the wilderness.

Friends, we are a people of continuity. For thousands of years, Aaron, Miriam and Moses have eternally inspired us to consider the values of peace, spirituality, humility.

I often reflect upon — as I’m sure you have — why, at the conclusion of their bar or bat mitzvah cycle, so many young people tend to leave Judaism.

This, after investing thousands of dollars and hours to teach and nurture each student. Often, this large outlay produces minimal results. 

Some studies of the religious observance of Jewish adults actually conclude that the more formal Jewish education many receive earlier in life, the more likely they are to reject their Judaism.

How can this be?

Perhaps the answer has been in front of us all along.

Aaron, Miriam and Moses. 

I want you to think back to your own Jewish upbringing. Who was it that influenced you most?

While many of us can recall a rabbi or teacher who inspired us, if you are like many, those who shaped our Judaism most were grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles.

Those bits of wisdom. The melodies sung around the Seder table. The smells from our kitchens.

These are lessons we remember most.

None of us is immortal. But through the knowledge, the values and the wisdom acquired through our seniors, we can confirm the wisdom of Rabbi Tarfon.

We may not accomplish everything we set out to do, but that is no excuse to walk away. For within the open hearts of our children, grandchildren, students and others who look up to us, we can continue to change the world through the values and behavior we model.

Ever more the reason to focus adequate resources toward the uplifting of elders. Indeed, they are the generations closest to the revelation at Mount Sinai.

In the end, Moses’ passed his teachings to Joshua. Aaron advanced his love of peace and public service to his descendants, and ultimately Miriam continued to inspire new generations in the pursuit of wisdom, song and dance, and the quest of Mayim Chayim – life’s sustaining waters.  

Within this fast-moving world, we sometimes forget that while children are our future — our elder are the conduits that sustain that journey.

Are we achieving the right balance?

I will be interested to observe and support my colleague as she advances her project to embrace, uplift and enhance the Jewish knowledge of seniors.

Indeed, while there is certainly the need to develop and implement new strategies for young people — those that inject fun, creativity, values and meaning into their Jewish education — we must also create more opportunities for seniors, based on the lives and lessons of Aaron, Miriam and Moses, in order that we travel that route together.

There is so much to teach. We must never desist.

Indeed, while we may not accomplish everything in our lifetime – our spark, our life force, our hopes and dreams — our DNA will endure through those we teach and inspire.

For it is they who will carry us on.

Shabbat shalom, v’kol tuv.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman


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