How Should We Treat Our Seniors?
(my newest piece in the Faithblender blog)
It’s a lot harder for the elderly to get respect in the 21st century. We live in the era of the cutting edge; technology rules, and technology changes daily. To be up to date, you need the latest gizmo, something that is often uninteresting or even confusing for older Canadians. In addition, our video driven culture is all about what you can see: videos, pictures, images. Our society is driven by the visual; and superficial qualities like youthful attractiveness have become far more important than in previous generations. In a culture of technology and youth, the elderly are the odd man out.
Sadly, as we forget our elderly, we forget our souls. A Jewish attitude to the elderly would recognize both society's need for wisdom as well as the imperative of gratitude.
The Talmud remarks that the Hebrew word for elder (zaken) is an acronym for “one who has wisdom” (zeh shekanah chachmah). The elder may not know the minutiae of technology, but life experience has given him wisdom. Wisdom is the ability to see the critical aspects of any decision; wisdom is the maturity to avoid getting caught up in hype. Wisdom reminds us that good values never go out of style. Sadly, in a society enamored with the new, wisdom is forgotten; this loss of wisdom is noticeable everywhere, from bank lending practices to marriage breakups.
But some of our elderly have declined, and are no longer wise. Age has taken its toll, and those who were once caregivers now need caretakers. How do we relate to the elderly who are infirm, who are no longer what they once were?
The Talmud has a beautiful note on this topic. The Bible tells us about the tablets with the Ten Commandments that were brought by Moses from Mt. Sinai; not once, but actually twice, because the first set were smashed by Moses during the episode of the Golden Calf. The two intact tablets were kept in the Ark of the Covenant, and housed in the center of the Temple.
But what about the first set of tablets, which were broken by Moses? Where were they housed? The Talmud tells us they were housed in the Ark as well. The lesson of this, says the Talmud, is even when a wise man loses his wisdom, he is still worthy of the same respect.
The Talmud is teaching us a profound lesson. There are times when we must show respect because of awe, out of an awareness that this person is far greater than I am. But there are times that we show respect out of gratitude. We need to consider the person’s past contributions to our family and community. I need to respect the old World War II vet, even if he longer remembers my name, or his. I need to show gratitude for accomplishments past, because without them, I would not be here today.