“May I suggest that man’s potential for change and growth is much greater than we are willing to admit and that old age be regarded, not as the age of stagnation, but as the age of opportunities for inner growth? The years of old age may enable us to attain the high values we fail to sense, the insights we have missed, the wisdom we have ignored. They are indeed formative years, rich in the possibilities to unlearn the follies of a lifetime, to see through the inbred deceptions, to deepen understanding and compassion, to widen the horizon of honesty, to refine a sense of fairness.”
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, 1961 White House Conference on Aging.
Rabbi Akiva says that the people of Israel need their elders just as birds need wings. In this simile, the elders enable the people to ascend, even as the Divine Presence descends towards them. In addition, the elders protect the people from the intensity of their ascent.
Send the dew of blessing, the dew of grace;
renew my dispensation, and grant me length of days.
You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old;
you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.
Remember the days of old, consider the years of ages past;
Ask your father, he will inform you, your elders, they will tell you.
Rabbi Nehunia ben Hakana’s students asked him: How have you managed to live so long? He replied: I never gloated over the downfall of my colleague; I forgave all those who cursed me; and I was generous with my money.
Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith “A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half;
trust God: see all, nor be afraid!”
They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be full of sap and richness.