Older and Better

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8 Responses

  1. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Old age typically combines two separate elements: experience and the weakening of the body. Those two elements can combine to make a person wiser. The question is at what proportion.

    If the weakening of the body played a great role, we’d expect people whose bodies are weak to be wiser. Are the physically handicapped more likely to become great Rabbis than those whose bodies function well?

  2. HILLEL says:


    It depends on what you “bring to the table.”

    As the Talmud states: “Am-HaaRatzIm get more stupid and silly as they age, while Talmidei ChaChoMim get wiser as they age.”

    If you’ve spent your entire life running from one pizza shop to the next, you won’t have much to do when your body loses its ability to run around.

    But, if you’ve spent your life filling your mind with volume upon vilume of Talmud, TANAC”H, Sifrei Mussar, Sifrei Kabballah, you will end up with a mind that contains a wealth of Torah that can be further refined and extended for the rest of your life, regardless of your physical infirmities.

  3. anon1 says:

    The Maharal writes in Be’er HaGolah (Be’er 6, p. 107), “an older person, on account of the weakening of his body, is deserving of honor, ‘In front of the elderly rise. . .’ (VaYikra 19:32). The reason, the Maharal explains, is that when the body loses its power, the neshama remains and plays an increasingly dominant role.

    The Rishonim make basically the same point on the mishnah at the very end of Kinim.

  4. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Hillel, I fully agree with you. It seems that the older we get, the more we become the person we attempt to be – for good or ill, depending on our choices.

    BTW, where does the Talmud say that?

  5. Ori Pomerantz says:

    I misunderstood Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum. He e-mailed me the correction, that it’s not the weakness of the body as much as the weakening of the power of one’s physical desires (or the strengthening of one’s will power to resist them).

  6. Avigdor says:

    Plato makes more or less the same points in Book 1 of the Republic. Socrates visits Cephalus, and elderly man. Socrates asks Cephalus how old age is:

    “There is nothing which for my part I like better, Cephalus, than conversing with aged men; for I regard them as travellers who have gone a journey which I too may have to go, and of whom I ought to enquire, whether the way is smooth and easy, or rugged and difficult.”

    Cephalus replies that it is good. He notes that (1) he is freed of the passions of youth (from a “mad and furious master”), and (2) a person with a good disposition is not burdened by old age:

    “I will tell you, Socrates, he said, what my own feeling is. . . . How well I remember the aged poet Sophocles, when in answer to the question, How does love suit with age, Sophocles, — are you still the man you were? Peace, he replied; most gladly have I escaped the thing of which you speak; I feel as if I had escaped from a mad and furious master. His words have often occurred to my mind since, and they seem as good to me now as at the time when he uttered them. For certainly old age has a great sense of calm and freedom; when the passions relax their hold, then, as Sophocles says, we are freed from the grasp not of one mad master only, but of many. The truth is, Socrates, that these regrets, and also the complaints about relations, are to be attributed to the same cause, which is not old age, but men’s characters and tempers; for he who is of a calm and happy nature will hardly feel the pressure of age, but to him who is of an opposite disposition youth and age are equally a burden.”

  7. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    As a person who appreciates the classics, have you read any of Leo Strauss? He attacks the classic vs. modern problem with a very subterraneanly Jewish point of view, although not frum. He was in the Lehrhaus in Germany with Rosenzweig and Buber and you see the Jewish influence in his talmid, Dr. Leon Kass. See his volume “Persecution and the Art of Writing”, which includes an essay on the Moreh Nevuchim and one on the Kuzari. He revised his position on the Rambam later in life partially, I think, as a result of criticism from Rav. Prof. Isidore Twersky z”l.

  8. G B says:

    Well, there’s older and then there’s OLDER. I sure would like to hear from an elderly person (mid 80s+ ) who is happy to be alive. Don’t mean to be cynical, but my mom has Alzheimers (ever notice no one says “refuah shlema” to a person w/dementia) and my mother-in-law, who is a Holocaust and cancer survivor, battles diabetes, kidney disfunction, high blood pressure, arthritis, etc etc. Sure, I get the mitzva for caring for them but their life is no picnic, and they both question the value of living so long. Yeah, they love the grandchildren/great-grandchildren and it gives them nachas, but only for about 15 min. before they tire of it. I’m beginning to think my father a’h had it best when he died in the prime of his life from cancer at 60. I’m not bitter, just very weary. And I feel as sorry for them as they do for themselves.

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