According to recent reports, Western civilization is a rapidly aging society. The elderly, the reports warn, will soon outnumber the youth, and society will have to come up with new ways to support those who are no longer able to provide for themselves. This seems like a great burden for the younger generation, particularly when they themselves face significant challenges trying to make ends meet.
According the Jewish tradition, respecting and showing concern for seniors is not just nice, it is a specific mitzvah: “You shall rise up before the hoary [aged] head and honor the face of the old man...” (Leviticus 19:32). Fulfilling this mitzvah even with one’s own parents or extended family is not always easy. The mitzvah, however, is far broader than one’s immediate relatives and extends to all seniors.
Being aware of the need to care for and include the elder generation has an interesting historical basis in the Torah. Just after the plague of hail, Pharaoh contemplated allowing the Children of Israel to go and worship God. He then asked Moses whom he would take with him into the wilderness. Moses responded, “With our youth and with our elders we will go...” (Exodus 10:9). Moses thus informed Pharaoh that everyone was included. While there was no question that the youth, the future, needed to go with Moses, one could have thought that it would be more sensible to leave the elderly behind lest they become a burden on the journey. Moses, however, makes no distinction in importance because no matter one’s age, every Jew is important to the nation.
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