There is a tradition with Judaism that the time between Pesach and Shavuot is spent studying the collection of sayings called Pirke Avot (Sayings of the Fathers).
This collection of sayings is part of our Mishnah and dates from around the year 2d century of the common era. Many young people in Confirmation class study this as part of their pre-Confirmation studies.
The book is a treasure of small, focused adages.
Several look to the challenges of learning and, I think, speak to the growing demand on the part of baby boomers for serious study of Jewish tradition.
A passage from chapter 4 of Pirke Avot asks about what it is like when one learns from an older person. The writer says that “one who learns from the old, to whom is such a person compared? To one who eats ripe grapes and drinks aged wine” (4:26).
This section is part of several little sayings that speak to the issues of learning when one is young and when one is not so young. There are numerous commentaries about these passages. Yet, these sections remind me of something that is taking place now. It speaks to the fact that, no matter what age we may be, learning is always possible, and, Jewish tradition seems to remind us that we need always to be open to new experiences and new ideas.
I think that one of the reasons so many boomers are leaving religious institutions like the synagogue is that so much emphasis is placed on youth. Indeed, this is a part of our role, to teach the young, and, in truth, there are many section of Pirke Avot that speak to this. However, to only focus on youth makes a tragic mistake of ignoring the age group that, perhaps as in no other time, needs to learn the power of what Jewish texts and tradition can offer in guiding us through serious life situations. The rise in interest for such discussions is one of the reasons why so many of us flock to elder hostel programs or adult-college classes or community discussions on Jewish subjects. We never were taught it before and we would like to know how our faith can and does provide guidance for an increasingly complex life.
As the summer unfolds and we start to think about the coming year, listen to our tradition and its call to all of us to seek out some meaningful educational experiences. If your synagogue does not provide such opportunities, go to the rabbi and ask that these be developed. We are never too old to learn, to grow and to experience new ideas.
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D. Min.