And so we begin again. Our portion opens the door to the new. There is not a chapter in B’resheet that does not contain a myriad of issues; from the two stories of creation to the myth of the Garden and the reality of death, to the challenge of morality that is brought to us by the fact that Cain gets away with murder and, in a sense, prospers. Every Torah study in every congregation this Shabbat could go on for hours. But I want to focus on something that does speak to our generation, because of this major theme of creation and where we are in life.
Louise Aronson has written a very powerful book called “Elderhood” * . In it, she poses a question that, she reports, was asked of a class of medical students. They were asked to write the first words that came to them when they saw the word “old” and “elder”. Old garnered words like frail, weak, fragile, sick, etc. Elder was associated with wisdom, leader, experience, etc. This little quiz could be the source of a huge conversation on ageism and self perception and the like. But it also struck me in light of the portion and the concept of creation. Longevity has allowed Boomers to re-invent aging. It has also allowed us, if we are lucky, to re-examine the difference in what we choose to be called or how we see ourselves. If the idea and act of creation, change and transformation is a basic tenet of Judaism (and I consider that to be a fact) then maybe it is time that we, as a group and as individuals, embrace the concept of “elder”.
Often in Torah, Moses will be asked to gather the “elders” to consdier an issue or to pass down the heritage. Being the “elder” symbolizes, I suggest, the idea that one is always open to change, to new possibilities and to growth. It enhances the idea that our life experience (still undervalued in many places within our society and Jewish world) counts for more than the number of years we have lived. Being an “elder” also suggests that we continue to see tomorrow as a possibility rather than just another day. We rarely use this word. But consdier this question that Aronson writes about and how the answer may shape self perception and the view of aging within a society.
Creation is part of who we are as a people. Several times we have had to re-invent ourselves. Indeed, we are kiving in such a time now, I believe; an “age of transition” as we create a new American Judaism. We live in a new age of Jewish creativity as new organizations and opportunities are emerging in ever growing numbers. And part of that is the new Jewish elder. You are part of this revolution. So as we read these first chapters of Torah and study the description of creation, maybe we can hold the thought that we are part of this on-going process. Creation is Judaism! Being Jewish is to part of this on-going evolution of community and self. Perhaps it is time to re-imagine our own status in our journey from older adult to elder. Just a thought as we begin again our story.
Rabbi Richard F Address.
- “Elderhood” Louise Aronson, Bloomsbury Pub. NYC.NY. 2019.