“Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the LORD.” — Leviticus 19:32
In Judaism, one of the 613 mitzvot —commands — given to the children of Israel is to show respect for the elderly because of their wisdom, and to uphold their dignity. Paul echoed this command in his letter to his younger protégé, Timothy (1 Timothy 5:1). Explore this commandment in its various applications through the timeless teachings of Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein.
Three men were once riding through the desert. Suddenly, they heard a heavenly voice say, “Stop riding.” The men stopped. The voice continued, “Get off your camels,” and so the men did. Then the voice said, “Gather up some sand in your hands and hold it for the rest of your journey.” The men did as the supernatural voice had commanded.
It was not an easy ride, but they made it to their destination. When they opened their hands at last, they saw that the sand they had been holding had turned to jewels! They were ecstatic, but at the same time lamented, “If only we had known; we would have gathered up so much more sand while we had the chance!”
Often in life, we don’t always take advantage of the opportunities before us. Sometimes, we don’t even realize how valuable those opportunities can be.
As we get old, we tend to think about all the things we want to do before we die. Some people call it a bucket list, and it typically includes the things that they’d like to do, places they want to go, or things they’d like to obtain. Now, I’m not knocking anyone’s list and I think it’s important to live life to the fullest. However, I do think we would be falling short of our life’s goals if we only had one kind of bucket list – one that honors the material blessings of this world. We also need to have a spiritual list as well – one that will serve us far more when we arrive at our final destination.
In our verses today, we read, “Stand up in the presence of the aged . . .” The literal meaning of the verse in Hebrew, however, reads, “Before old age, you shall rise.” Traditionally, we understand that this verse is directing us to show respect to the elderly. But taking the literal meaning into account, the Jewish sages suggest an alternative message: Rise up – raise up your soul – before you reach old age.
Old age has many blessings, but also many limitations. Our bodies and minds will not be as they formerly were. That’s what motivates many people to do the things they want to do while they still can. They take that trip or buy that car. However, the Bible is teaching us that we must utilize our vitality for spiritual purposes as well.
We must create a list that includes how we can contribute to society, not just the things we’d like to acquire. We should plan trips that renew our souls, not just our bodies. Instead of asking, “How much pleasure can I still experience in the time I have left?” we need to ask, “How much pleasure can I give to the Lord with the time I have been given?”
Gather up your good deeds and hold them in your heart. One day you will discover that they are the real treasure.