Thoughts on Turning 70

Dear Friends:

In "As You Like It", Shakespeare has Jaques recite a famous monologue on the ages of man: a mewling, puking infant, whining schoolboy, amorous lover, devoted soldier, wise judge, second childhood, and then death. How very different from our own tradition's listing of the ages of man and the stages of life in the fifth chapter of Pirke Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers.

        "At 5, the study of Torah'     

        At 10, the study of Mishnah'

        At 13, subject to the commandments

        At 15, the study of the Talmud

        At 18, marriage

        At 20, pursuit of a career

        At 30, peak of achievement

        At 40, wisdom

        At 50, able to give counsel

        At 60, becoming an elder

        At 70, the fullness of years

        At 80, special strength

        At 90, a bent back

        At 100, gone from the affairs of this world".

Our sages saw life as revolving around study, spiritual awareness and meaningfulness.  Not for us the quip of an anonymous wit who described life as spills, drills, thrills, pills, ills, and wills.

Today I turn 70. It's a great blessing to reach 70. One can look back on a long span of life's joy and achievements. Still, it's hard for me to believe; I don't feel old(unless I look too closely in the mirror).I am grateful to be healthy, to have energy and passion for both my family and my work, and even though I have an AARP card and happily present it at the movie theatre, I consider "old" to be my mother's age. And only hope I will be as spry, as active and as mentally acute as she is at almost 92. 

There is a story in the Passover Haggadah which relates to Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah. He says: "Here I am LIKE a man of 70, yet I was not privileged to know the source of the commandment to recite the story of the exodus from Egypt at night, until Ben Zoma interpreted it to me."

The Talmud relates , during the period following the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, that the sages of Yavneh wished to appoint Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah as head of the Academy. A brilliant scholar, respected and beloved by his colleagues, he had one shortcoming: he was too young!  Perhaps he was thought not to have enough experience of the world; perhaps it was considered inappropriate for a mere youth of 17 to sit as head of the venerable rabbinic sages of Yavneh.

So the Talmud relates that a miracle happened. One morning Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah awoke to find that his hair and his beard had turned a snowy white. He now looked like an elder. When his colleagues saw him with his hoary head, they felt comfortable asking him to become head of the Academy of Yavneh. He had the best of both worlds: he was chronologically a young man, full of the strength and vigor of youth, but he was also (at least in appearance) an old man, filled with the experience and sagacity of old age. What a great combination - to be both young and old at the same time!

The secret of being young and old simultaneously is: maintaining hope, looking ahead, openness to new ideas, overcoming gloom and failure by focusing on the brightness on the horizon. "The old shall dream dreams and youth will have visions."

Someone once told me that you don't stop laughing when you get old; you get old when you stop laughing.  I'd add that you don't stop dreaming and growing when you get old; you get old when you stop dreaming and growing.

It think it was Oliver Wendell Holmes who quipped: "To be 70 who years young is sometimes far more cheerful and hopeful that to be 40 years old."

I do not have words sufficient to express my joy and pride in my children Rachel, Sarah, Moshe, Danya, Joshua and Avi, and their spouses, who have made my life so worthwhile and satisfying. Parenting them is beyond measure the best thing I have done in my life.  Their children are the lights of my life. As savta to 18 wonderful grandchildren, each so different and each so precious, I know why we have the Proverb that says that "grandchildren are the  crown to the aged". I have been so blessed with colleagues and friends who have enriched my life and I am grateful for the special people and special moments of my life. My cup runneth over.

I would like to be the opposite of Rabbi ben Azaryah. I AM a woman of 70 (without grey hair or a beard!!!); and yet, with the help of the Almighty as I enter this new stage of life, "et zikna", the time of fullness of years, I hope to retain my sense of curiosity, enthusiasm, optimism and spirit. I look forward to laughter, joy, continued growth and continued service to the Jewish people in some new capacity. I don't wish my life and the things I value to contract but rather to take on new dimensions all the rest of my days.

Shabbat shalom,


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