Few Torah portions can match the sheer power and challenges that our first portion presents. From the Creations myths to Adam and Eve and God’s first question to us “ayekah?” (where are you?) through the ethical challenges presented by Cain and Abel (and the fact that Cain gets away with murder); this portion has been, and will continue to be, the source of great debate, study and some controversy. Just read Dan Brown’s newest book “Origin”!
But for this space this week, let me reference a word that has come to mean so much to our aging work and comes up every time we engage a group at a congregation or meeting. Genesis [2:18] contains one of those small Hebrew words from which sermons sprout. We are told in that verse that it is not good for man to be “l’vado” (alone). Herein rests one of the most powerful realities for us as we get older. Study after study has confirmed the truth of this word, one of the great fears of our age and dangers to our lives is that being isolated, alone and cut off. No doubt may of us know of or have experienced situations where people , from a variety of reasons and circumstances, are “alone”; either physically or existentially.
I recently watched this Netflix movie “Our Souls at Night”. It is based on a book of the same name. The movie stars Jane Fonda and Robert Redford. It is a film that deals with the challenges of growing older and the issue of being alone. Get beyond some of the Hollywood massage of the story and see the fact that at any age, human contact, intimacy and connection becomes so vital to all of us. The Torah seems to understand this because the next chapter, Genesis 3, introduces death and it is not a stretch to be able to weave an understanding that as we face the “ultimate aloneness” being with people in relationships can ease that fear.
We live in a society that all too often allows elders to be isolated. The Hebrew sense of “caret”, or being cut off from others, exiled into the self, is real. Just visit many a nursing home. But even in our own congregations, I sense, and my experience tells me, that there are people who exist in isolation. They become forgotten, often living alone and unable to be mobile. One of our challenges in modern congregational life is to make sure that no one in our community is allowed to remain “alone”. This “l’vado” factor is all to powerful.
The existential aloneness that exists in each of us becomes more powerful as we age. As the circles of our relationships begin to shrink, as the physical limitations may become more present, we are in greater need of being with people. Judaism reminds us that being with people in relationship extends life, allows us to overcome even physical challenges and can serve as a foundation for the celebration of life. Understanding Genesis [2:18] can show us that we live our best life when we engage with the world and in doing so we come to value even more our friendships, our family and the fragile nature of time.
Rabbi Richard F Address