The Beauty of the Aged

Yael Eckstein  |  May 16, 2024

Yael Eckstein smiling & holding elderly disabled woman named Lydia

Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the LORD. —Leviticus 19:32

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Kedoshim, which means “holy,” from Leviticus 19:1—20:27.

On a busy winter day in Jerusalem, I was standing outside, listening to an important phone meeting while waiting for a cab. Suddenly I noticed a frail-looking elderly woman carrying a bunch of groceries.

I put the call on mute and asked the woman if she needed help and if she had a ride home. She said that she did, so I returned to my meeting and waited for my cab. But the whole time, I had my eye on this woman.

A few minutes later, I heard someone come up to her and say that she had to move because she was blocking a driveway. I watched as she struggled to bend down and pick up her bags, so I rushed over to help.

Just then, my cab pulled up. I gently took the woman’s arm and grabbed her bags and said to her, “I’m taking you home, you can cancel your other ride.” This time, she gratefully accepted. The smile she gave me was absolutely beautiful!

The Beauty of the Aged

Coincidentally—or not!—my phone meeting just happened to be about helping the elderly and needy in Israel. What happened with the elderly woman at that exact moment was a God-sent reminder that I was right where I was supposed to be.

Taking extra care to help and honor the elderly is a value that we see expressed in this week’s Torah portion: “Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the LORD.”

The Hebrew for “show respect” in this verse is ve’hadarta. The root of the word, hadar, means “beauty,” and so the real meaning of ve’hadarta is “make beautiful.” Some interpret this to mean that the Bible is telling us what our attitude should be regarding the elderly, that we should see the beauty in the faces of the elderly. But I think that the verse is telling us something more.

Simply put, we are commanded to bring beauty to the faces of the elderly, to light them up with a smile, to “make them beautiful.” And if you could have seen the smile on the face of that woman in Jerusalem, you’d know exactly what I mean.

Your Turn:

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