When you’re 23 you know that in 20 years, you’re going to be 43. Most folks say
– that’s a trillion years away. But when you’re 63, you know that, in 20 years,
you may not be. So, as Elul approaches, you should get very selective about how
you spend your time.
All of us have heard that people wonder how much
they would change if they could live their lives backward, acquiring at life’s
beginning the lessons they had learned at its end. Our lives could be greatly
enriched if we were able to imbibe not just Pirkei Avot (“Ethics of Our
Fathers”), as we do this time of the year, but also pirkei sabim, (“the wisdom
of our grandparents”). There is quite a bit they could offer us.
following is an anecdote from American lore: When the noted judge, Oliver
Wendell Holmes, was still active on the US Supreme Court, he and justice Louis
Brandeis would take walks every afternoon. On one of these occasions Holmes,
then 92, paused to look with real admiration at a beautiful young girl who
passed them. They stopped, and the elder said to the younger with a sigh.
“Louis, oh to be 10 years younger again.”
Halfway between my 40th and
50th birthdays, a big change came over me. For the first time in my life, I was
confronted by the thought that my years past almost certainly outnumbered the
At some time in our lives, we all must face this. What can
we do to lessen that shock? We can write, be it diaries or letters or
We can record our thoughts by working out the questions we can
answer – or by having someone else: our children or oral history professionals
quiz us for the record – future record of course.
At this time, when
amazing inventions are bought for as much as a billion dollars, we can sit down,
surround ourselves with talented people and invent. This is not for the money,
but for everlasting name recognition.
My uncle, Prof. Abraham Geffen,
specialized in the field of radiology, invented the “Geffen Ruler,” to measure
certain organ movements on an X-ray. Who knows? The “Berman mouth bite,” the
“Cohen Internet Clipper,” or even the “Levy cell-locket” may come through your
brain and your hands.
I learned this from a Talmudic sage one summer at
Camp B’nai B’rith. In his lecture he said emphatically that, "A midlife crisis
is merely God’s way of making us ask ourselves if we are living to our full
potential, of making us take the responsibility for that within which remains
Now that I am in the middle of my seventh decade, I hope that I
can honestly say that I experienced the joy of passing on hochma “wisdom” to
A person, not seen or heard from for 20 years, but whom I
once knew well, brightened my day: “David,” he wrote, “every week or so I say to
someone in my bakery shop, ‘David taught me how to treat people this way.’” I
never realized what I had done, but now I have at least one point in my favor. I
am sure that as Elul arrives you, too, can record the good points you have
accumulated. Don’t just repent in the days ahead, calculate all the “positive
stuff” with which you have filled your days.
The question is, just as we
squeeze notes into spaces in the Kotel, how can we make sure to focus on the
spaces in our lives that wait anxiously for us to take an interest, so they too
can be filled.
My friends, the consensus may be that with aging we either
rust with “disuse” or grow musty with “stagnation.”
But – it can be
different. If you have a feeling that there is something special you are endowed
with, a talent which can be well-utilized, grab hold of yourself and give it a
try. Even if you do not succeed wildly, the effort will add a dimension to your
life you never expected.
Dor holech, dor ba (“a generation comes – a
generation goes”), Ecclesiastes informs. What this means is that each of us is a
significant link in the chain of generations.
A wonderful function of the
computer is that its innards can reach out to the past and pinpoint those
ancestors of ours. We may never have seen their faces, but when we truly know
that they existed and that is why we are here – our personal being can take on
new meaning. Do we have to spend hours digging deeply and becoming aware of the
circle of life they led? Yes, if we so choose. Geneologists daily make
discoveries related to human beings.
Tiku Bashofar (“Blow the shofar”):
Each morning of Elul, the sounding of the shofar proudly says to each of us,
“You are here – they were here – your children will be here.” Now it’s our turn
to grab what we have, both character and money, and leave an inheritance,
whatever it may be, to shape the future. Am Yisrael hai
(“The people of Israel
lives”) now and for eons to come, through us.
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