Bearing Fruit Even In Old Age

The Torah mentions the ages of Moses and Aaron to teach us that age is a source of pride and that by honoring the elderly we bring richness to our own lives.

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Provided by the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, which ordains Conservative rabbis at the American Jewish University.

Most of our lives are darkened by the shadow of aging. We mock the old, laughing at their physical condition, joking about being in wheel chairs, in old age homes, in hospital beds. We associate the old with the incompetent, with a state of permanent boredom and irrelevance. By bleaching our hair, lifting our faces, breasts and calves, sucking off our fat, and dressing in the gaudiest apparel possible, we hope to "stay young" forever.Couple

Our fear of age trails us everywhere, urging middle-aged women to undergo cosmetic surgery and middle-aged men to find a mistress. It whispers to us of "our last chance"--whatever the vice in question. There is a frenzied quality to our recreation, our relationships, and to our acquisition of property, since we expect all of them to ward off the inevitable--death.

Warding Off Death

There is one way to ward off death, but it doesn't lie in the distractions and the stuporifics offered by today's fashion magazines. We can ward off death, prevent its encroachment into the realm of life, only by truly living each and every day, only by refusing to see the elderly as the walking dead, or to view aging as equivalent to dying.

We can put off death by honoring the old among us. Look, for a moment, at how our Jewish tradition speaks of age. In today's Torah portion, Moses and his brother, Aaron, receive God's command to appear before Pharaoh to demand the freedom of the Jews. In what looks like an unnecessary digression, after discussing the conversation between the brothers and God, the Torah records that "Moses was 80 years old and Aaron was 83, when they made their demand on Pharaoh."

Why does the Torah stoop from the drama of statescraft and diplomacy at the highest levels to reveal something so mundane, so irrelevant as the age of these two leaders?

According to Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra, this reference to advanced age is unique. "We don't find prophets anywhere else in Scripture for whom the text points out that they prophesied while elderly, except here."

Moses and Aaron Were Old

Only for Moses and Aaron does the Torah go out of its way to tell us that they were old. Why? "Because it attributes greatness [to Moses and Aaron] beyond all other prophets, for only to them did God appear...for only to them was the Torah given, and thus through their hands do the righteous inherit the Coming World, while all other prophets either chastise or predict the future."

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Rabbi Bradley Artson

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is Vice-President of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and Dean of its Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies. He served as a congregational rabbi in Southern California for ten years. Rabbi Artson?is the author of The Bedside Torah and co-author of a children's book, I Have Some Questions about God.