Old age is not so easy to define. For a professional football player, forty is already over the hill. On the other hand, there are budding authors in their eighties publishing their first book. So who is old?
We do need a clear answer. There is a mitzvah to “rise before the aged, and give deference to the old.” (Vayikra 19:32) This means more than just offering old people a seat on the bus. It means listening to what they have to say and taking their words seriously.
The mere fact that a person has been around for a while gives a level of credibility and weight to their opinion. Of course there are some very foolish octogenarians, and there are some very wise millennials. But nothing beats life experience. Elders deserve respect just because they have seen a lot.
But how old is an elder?
The most authoritative opinion in Jewish law (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 244:1) states that you are an elder and must be accorded honor from the age of 70.
But a most delightful definition of old age is found in the Talmud tractate Niddah 9b. It says that if people call you “oldie” and you take it as an insult, then you aren’t old. But if you don’t mind people calling you old, then you have earned the title of elder.
This is brilliant. As long as you are stuck in the cult of trying to stay young, you haven’t reached the age of respectability. The sign that you have attained the level of mature wisdom is that you are comfortable being old. It’s not an insult, it’s an honor.
So let’s test you, oldie.
How did that feel? Why did you just unsubscribe from my blog?!!
Mendel (Menacehm) Bluming and R”M etc