I usually teach this Torah portion as sort of a Reader’s Digest version of Jewish life. After all, Leviticus 19 contains a basic overview of Jewish ethics, ritual and social laws; all underscored by the phrase “I am Adoni your God.” Leviticus 19 is so important and crucial that we read it not only now, but again on Yom Kippur. It begins with the charge to respect our parents and observe Shabbat, flows on to include such issues as ritual law, care for the poor (verse10), disabilities(14), bio-ethics (16), the “Golden Rule” ( 17), business ethics (35). One could create an entire class by just going through this one chapter.
For us, however, I wanted to look briefly at a verse, known to many, that appears at the end of the chapter. Leviticus 32 reads “You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old, you shall fear your God, I am the Lord” Two key Hebrew words are noted here. “Sevah” (aged) is a word used to describe the person who is older. The word, “zakein” is used to mean elder, as in sage or community leader. We know that the idea here is to respect those of us who have attained age. There is a wonderful comment by Rabbi Abraham Twerski of Pittsburgh, who notes that the command to “rise” is more than showing respect. He sees this a way of recognizing the elder, of validating their “being”, of making sure the they do not become invisible.
I think this view is especially important in our current American youth oriented society where agism still exists and too may elders exist at the margins of life. They are, as many have expressed to me in workshops and discussions, often made to feel invisible. The portion, and this view of Leviticus 32, is a call to fight that reality. Being “in God’s image” mandates that no one ever is allowed to become invisible. To be called to holiness ( the theme of the portion, is to validate every human being in their existence. Society still has a lot to learn from this one verse.
Rabbi Richard F Address.