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Torah Commentary
Va-eira (December 28, 2013)

Benjamin J. Zeidman, Assistant Rabbi

THERE IS NO DOUBT that our text venerates those within our community who have the life experience to lead and guide the community. Over again we read about the unnatural old age of our ancestors who tackle physical feats (like giving birth) and show great endurance (like leading the people). The lesson is clear: Those in our community who deserve the most respect are the elderly. It is because of them that we are here today.

Aging in our community is a serious challenge that is not helped by a culture which focuses on the young. Too often, those who are older are relegated to the periphery, neither seen nor heard, and left to fade away without regular interaction, without attention, without honor. Some of the most meaningful conversations I have are with someone who can share with me his or her story…a story that takes place in a time I never knew.

There is so much we can learn when we talk to those who have had to transition into this world from one so different. I’m just 30 years old. How can I have pride in who I am, and who we are, without understanding from where we have come? Whether through lessons as fundamental as standing in a bread line during the Great Depression, as powerful as hearing the story of an American vet chasing the Nazis out of Dachau, or even as simple as what it was like to travel before commercial jets (just a sampling of stories I’ve heard from those older than me), all that I am and everything I have from the most basic to the most complex is thanks to those who lived their lives before I came along.

Our tradition teaches us the importance of sitting at the feet of those who have wisdom to share. Every person has wisdom to share, especially the oldest of us. Moses was 80 and Aaron 83 when they approached Pharaoh and demanded our freedom. When’s the last time you simply sat with someone older than you and invited him or her to share a story?

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