While I was cooking for Shabbat, my teen son came into the kitchen and stood, watching me in silence for several minutes. I knew he had something on his mind but I figured I would let it stew until he was ready to ask.
“Abba, if you had a choice to receive $10 million or to go back ten years and get to relive them, what would you choose?”
I laughed. “That’s easy,” I said. “I would take the money.”
“Why?” he asked. “Aren’t you afraid of getting old?”
I shook my head. “First of all, I am old, or at least older than I ever thought I would get to be with all of the stupid stunts I pulled as a young man. God showed great mercy to me along the way or I wouldn’t be standing here right now, talking to my amazing son.”
“But don’t you want to be young again?”
I decided to take a coffee break and we went out to the back porch.
“Being old is just like being young, except you wake up feeling like you played a rough game of football that you can’t remember,” I said as I sipped my coffee. “Another difference is that I am not quite as stupid as I used to be. You have to pay for wisdom in installments. The bigger lessons take years. There is no way I would sell ten years of wisdom for $10 million. I am no great sage today but ten years ago, I was an idiot.”
“I don’t feel stupid…most of the time,” he responded.
I laughed again. “There is a saying in Israel that goes, ‘I am not young enough to know everything.”
In a rare moment of religiosity, I handed my son a book of Psalms. “Chapter 71,” I said. “Tell me what you learn.”
In Psalm 71, David describes his relationship with God as a young man and even before he was born:
For You are my hope, O Hashem, my trust from my youth. While yet unborn, I depended on You; in the womb of my mother, You were my support; I sing Your praises always. Psalm 71:5-6
But the Psalm then goes on to describe his connection to God, and his hope for a deeper connection, in his old age:
My mouth is full of praise to You, glorifying You all day long. Do not cast me off in old age; when my strength fails, do not forsake me! Psalm 71:8-9
You have let me experience it, Hashem, from my youth; until now I have proclaimed Your wondrous deeds, and even in hoary old age do not forsake me, Hashem, until I proclaim Your strength to the next generation, Your mighty acts, to all who are to come Psalm 71:17-18
Bible commentators believe that this Psalm was written when David was an old man fleeing his son Absalom and the treacherous Achitophel. David is no stranger to being pursued by enemies. In his youth, he spent a great deal of time evading King Saul’s repeated attempts to kill him. How does David’s perspective change in his old age?
When he ran from Saul as a young man, David held onto the hope that he still had a long life ahead of him and the promise that he would become the king of Israel. Now, in his old age, while being chased by Absalom, he doesn’t know how much time he has left or if he will ever sit on the throne again. Therefore, he fervently prays to God, “do not cast me off in old age.” David is seeking a revitalization of strength and a deepened closeness to God, while yearning for his remaining years to radiate with the same dignity and magnificence that graced his youth.
David’s heartfelt prayer reflects the desires of all elderly individuals who wish for their later years to be filled with dignity and grace. It’s a plea for significant accomplishments to crown a lifetime of hard work and success, and a request to dispel the emptiness that can weaken the body and burden the soul.
The interaction with my son and the wisdom of Psalm 71 reminded me of the profound complexities and blessings that come with aging. While the allure of youth and the temptation to relive past moments may occasionally cross our minds, there is a unique beauty in the wisdom and experiences that accompany old age. It is through the passage of time and the challenges faced that we develop resilience, deepen our connection with the divine, and gain a richer understanding of ourselves and the world around us. Growing older is not simply a matter of physical decline, but an opportunity to deepen our wisdom, strengthen our relationships, and leave a lasting impact on future generations. May we all embrace the journey of aging with gratitude, cherishing the lessons learned and seeking to make our later years a testament to a life well-lived.