I recently was honored to do a workshop for a synagogue in Chicago (Sukkat Shalom). They were developing a program focusing on baby boomers and aging. In a break-out session the subject again turned to how we create a sense of meaning and purpose as we age. This issue comes up at just about every talk or class in which I am involved. Books and articles abound in trying to answer this. They focus on a wide variety of answers, all of which are “right”, in their own way. Yet, as we discussed at this session, let me offer a glimpse from out own tradition because, as a rabbi, I often will go back to sacred texts as a starting point.
This season offers us the Book of Genesis, perhaps one of the greatest collections of stories and insights into human behavior ever collected. It is a textbook on family dynamics. Contained within its power is a theme of moving on, transition and growth. It is from many of these stories that I get the belief that Judaism teaches that we can never be afraid to move forward in life, that standing still leads to atrophy, not only of body and mind, but of the spirit.
The beginning of that belief comes from Genesis 12 when Abram is “called” to “go forth” (lech l’cha) into a future that is unknown. It requires a faith in that future and a faith in his own self to begin the process that will eventually evolve into people hood. As we boomers age, we often face challenges that call on us to “go forth”. Health issues, family issues, social issues call on us to re-structure and maybe even re-evaluate our place. If we are given the gift of longevity with health, we may see this as a time to do what we always have wanted to do. Still, many of us stop at the border of growth citing to many responsibilities or commitments. We fall back into a type of normalcy. Judaism, I think, gives us the freedom to change and grow and risk–no matter what our age. Indeed, I think it says that until our last breath, we are challenged to search for our own unique-ness and to celebrate the gift of life.
Think about this as we move into Autumn. It is a season of beginnings, in many ways. Rosh Hoshonnah and the Holiday season just passed is a meaningful starting point for this. Simchat Torah literally symbolizes the invitation to begin again, as we finish the Torah cycle and immediately start another cycle with Genesis. It is as if we are given, every year, this opportunity to be something new.
Enjoy this new year and season in health.
Rabbi Richard F. Address. D.MIn