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The Wisdom of Our Elders

Elderly

Remember the days of old;
    consider the generations long past.
Ask your father and he will tell you,
    your elders, and they will explain to you. — Deuteronomy 32:7

The Torah portion for this week is Ha’azinu, which means “listen,” from Deuteronomy 32:1–52, and the Haftorah is from 2 Samuel 22:1–51.

Mention the subject history, and many will break out in a cold sweat, conjuring up images of sitting in a classroom memorizing names, places, and events. However, the study of history is not about learning facts as much as it is about learning lessons from the past. Scripture teaches, Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past.” The Bible tells us to study history so that we will learn from it.

Learning from the past is important not only for humanity as a whole, but also for every individual. Just as nations can learn valuable lessons from the history of previous generations, so too, can we learn from those who have come before us. The verse continues, “Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you.” As someone once told me, God created gray hair so that we would know who to go to for advice!

A few years ago a nurse working in palliative care found herself having profound conversations with her patients. The result was a book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. From what the dying wished they had done differently, the living could learn precious lessons about the changes they should make in their own lives — before it’s too late.

Here are the five regrets.

  1. “I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself.” So many people live their lives according to what others believe, instead of living according to their own values.
  2. “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” Nobody on their deathbed ever wishes that they had spent more time at the office, but they do wish they had spent more time with their loved ones.
  3. “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.” The Bible warns: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart” (Leviticus 19:17 NKJV). While it may seem easier to ignore our feelings, we need to work through them and then forgive.
  4. “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.” The most important things in life aren’t things – they are the people that we share life with.
  5. “I wish that I had let myself be happier.” Happiness is a choice that doesn’t depend on circumstance, but on attitude.

Hard-earned wisdom! There’s so much we can learn from our elders who have a lifetime of experiences to share with us — if only we take the time to listen.

There is a treasure chest of gems just waiting to be discovered. We can learn much from the people of the Bible and from the many biographies out there – but let us never overlook the gift of the elderly in our own lives. We can learn from them so that our lives will be better; then we can pass on their lessons as well as our own to future generations.

 

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President

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