When the time drew near for David to die, he gave a charge to Solomon his son. — 1 Kings 2:1
This Torah portion for this week is Vayechi, which means “and he lived,” from Genesis 47:28–50:26, and the Haftorah is from 1 Kings 2:1–12.
There aren’t many exchanges recorded in the Jewish Bible, what Christians call the Old Testament, between fathers and sons. This week, however, we read about two of them. In the Torah portion, we read about the end of Jacob’s life and his last will and testament, so to speak, to his sons and grandsons. In the Haftorah, we read about the end of another great life — King David, who while on his deathbed, handed the kingdom over to his son Solomon.
These two readings make us pause and consider the transitional moments we’ve experienced in our own lives and those yet to come. We are reminded that one day we, too, will take our leave from the world and to remember the importance of leaving behind a legacy. At the same time, we should also consider how fortunate we are for the great people who have come before us and will bequeath us their own legacy. We are reminded of the value in learning all that we can from our parents, grandparents, and older community members. It is the older people in our lives whose priceless life experiences can provide us with a fountain of knowledge deserving of our respect and attention.
Yet, in today’s world, getting older is almost considered shameful or even a sin. The booming cosmetics and plastic surgery industries attest to this fact. In contrast, the Bible places great value on older people and teaches us that old age is something to aspire to and treasure.
The first time old age is mentioned in the Bible is in reference to the patriarch Abraham: “Abraham was now very old” (Genesis 24:1). The Jewish sages comment that this was the first time that old age was introduced to the world. According to Jewish tradition, Abraham came before the Lord with a request: “Master of the Universe, a man and his son walk together and no one knows unto whom to give honor. I beg of you, make a distinction between us.” God fulfilled Abraham’s request and old age was given as a gift, a crown giving honor to those who deserved it.
In Leviticus 19:32 we are commanded, “Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly.” If we fail to honor the elderly, we not only disobey the Word of God, we also rob ourselves of our most precious natural resource. The elderly are a rich source of wisdom, knowledge, and guidance that we dare not squander.
This week, spend time with an older person in your life and make an effort to learn from their wisdom and experiences. The elderly are a gift that we must honor and cherish as long as we are blessed to have them in our lives.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President