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Old Age, Old Wine

Old Age, Old Wine

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Antique sells. Even faux-antique sells. “Antiqued” furniture is scuffed and dinged at the end of the assembly line. Brand-new pewter pitchers are being coated with green stuff called patina. Multi-million-dollar homes are built to “have character.” If you have no antique, buy some. The more old and worn-looking, the better: the elegance of aged has come of age. Old is good.

Except for old people. No one boasts of having their own senior citizen. Or of being one.

And no one is guiltier of this than the old people themselves. They dress to look twenty-something. They (try to) carry on a conversation like Generation X. They even operate on themselves to erase the signs of the life they have lived. When it comes to people, the Fountain of Youth reigns. And—we add for good measure—can you make that fountain spring from an ancient-looking, rustic grotto?

For good reason, for good reason is youth pursued.

Youth is beautiful. Young means glamorous, vibrant, fun, exciting. Youth dissipates with age.

The appeal of maturity is its subtlety: understated, dependable, grounded. Maturity, and a taste for maturity, must be acquired.

Put wine in a jar, and it turns to vinegar. Left in the cask, wine develops full flavor. In the cask it is still alive, it breathes, it grows. It acquires something it did not have the day before.

Old people can, if they so choose, turn to grouches. A grouch is the result of someone who stops growing, acquiring, developing. It can happen in a young person too: We call them brats.

“Ba bayamim,” the Parshah several weeks ago describes Abraham, “come of his days.” Each day was full, was lived to its fullest. He took on the next day with new vigor. “Old, and with full days,” this Parshah describes his son, when he too was no longer young.

Some people wait to die. Some live a life that ends with death. They determine their day by their food, golf, shopping and social climbing. The Talmud calls them dead: “Even in their lifetimes, they are called dead.”

How sad to hear a son eulogize his mother for her brisket. How sad the daughter who holds onto her father’s memory by holding onto the condo in Boca Raton because “he loved the water.” This is what they have left? Recipes and beach balls?

Is this what our grandchildren can know about their grandparents? Is this legacy?

You cannot live towards legacy, any more than you can live towards happiness. They will evade you.

You can live with a today that is giving, building: ensuring something precious is made in this world. A girl with leukemia is cured. A boy with Hodgkin’s is comforted. You babysit for his mother so she can go out for a few hours. You learn some Torah. You teach some Torah.

You help others learn and live and celebrate and have something to give to their children. You sweep the floor of the synagogue, you straighten up the chairs, you order more books, you update the synagogue website.

By themselves, none of these things are worth writing home about. Together, accumulated over a lifetime, they leave a legacy.

The soul breathes, much as wine does.

The body turns to vinegar if the soul does not breathe. Capturing youth is canning wine, at best.

Living life, letting the soul breathe, is creating a precious antique the grandchildren will showcase.

Rabbi Shimon Posner is the director of Chabad of Rancho Mirage, California.
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Discussion (14)
November 11, 2013
Improvement
We should do everything with the intention of growing our character; it benefits everyone with whom you ever come in contact. We shouldn't be still too long; always studying, and thinking and acting. I promise G-d will prod you along, you may or may not understand what is happening at the time. Sometimes, it takes a death or tragic event for us to stop and pay attention. Try not to be that hard-headed individual.
David Jones
Brandon
December 1, 2012
agless wisdom
That was a beautiful lesson to treasure and pass on.
Thank you so very much Rabbi Posner.
Anonymous
November 30, 2012
Great article.
This reminds me of how much I love my dad and why. He is 81, and still the most positive person I have ever met. He just retired as chairman of the planning commission in Oregon which he chaired for 15 years, A volunteer position. He did it just to make a difference in his town. When he left, there was a two page article in the paper thanking him and saying how much they will miss him. We do have a choice. This is a great article, us old folks have alot to offer, it can come in the form of experience, ability, or doing the things the young ones do not want to do, or think they don't have the time to do. I for one will never give up, never stop trying.
Larry
San Jose, California
November 30, 2012
it is wonderful to help the shul, I like to bake for our shul. But I fail to see how helping the shul creates any more "legacy" for our children than, the seemingly under-appreciated "brisket" in your article, which actually, is part of the home the boy's mother created for him on a daily basis, her main mitzvah in life, and extremely meaningful, totally worthy to be included in her eulogy. I disagree. In any case, any one who has lost a parent will know, at the funeral, at the time of eulogies, one has only begun to sense and deal with the flood of overwhelming emotion and memories which will inundate them during the coming year, at least, if not for long after. It is such a process, no one can be judged for how they eulogize their parent, G-d forbid.
Leah
Cleve
November 30, 2012
Elevating the container
Hopefully the spiritual core of this article and the insights from readers will help us understand that those who don’t live up to the “picture perfect” images of media myths are just as valuable as those who do. As for those of us who color our hair, struggle to lose weight or even have cosmetic surgery, I think we should examine our motives for doing these things. Are we doing it for health? To get that job? For that boost of confidence that gets us out of the house and among the living? Are we speaking the language of youth, at times, to connect with grandchildren and other kids we’re trying to help? G-d provides us with various tools and it’s up to us to choose the right tools and make sure we’re using them in the service of G-d and others; not for our own vanity or to better execute spiritual prohibitions! Not all Jews live in the protected milieu of Chabad-Lubavitch, where friendly hands reach out more readily to the aged and infirmed – and where the word “family” is often extended to those who are not blood relations or even friends. Many Jews, observant and otherwise, are virtually alone in society. We must find ways to survive that give meaning and use to our lives. If improving our outward appearance helps us accomplish this mission, and we remain aware that appearance is a tool, not the mission itself - I think the fine wine of age and experience can work compatibly with a new and improved container.
Susan
Boca Raton and Montreal
November 29, 2012
Maturity of soul, is like the maturity of the good wine
I work in a nursing home as a night nurse, some older people do not sleep that well; in the early hours of the am and recently I had the pleasure of a great conversation with a reasonably healthy astute Italian woman of 102! Her cognitive ability is still good. I spent some twenty minutes in conversation about making pasta. My Italian was poor as so was her English, but we managed & we both enjoyed the chat and company. I found it hard to believe she was 102 and that she had been required to go in to a nursing home. I would much prefer to see people like here still with family. Western culture is cruel and cutting to it's elderly people. I have no elderly parents as mine, both died very young; I miss not having parents to share life with, many younger people of 2012 have no time for their elderly parents, how sad for them and their parents.
Margi
November 29, 2012
Old Age
It is wrong to blame the older people. The older generation merely react to reality. If everyone would keep the observance of respecting one's elders then seniors would feel different.
Michael
November 28, 2012
Brisket and latkes
Your anecdote about the eulogy over "brisket" brought back a similar memory. When I was in my twenties the Rabbi eulogized over my just-deceased aunt's latkes. I was saddened by the remark and hoped my life would have more meaning than "latkes". Actually, though, the superficiality exemplified in your anecdote (and my aunt's eulogy) may be more on the part of who delivered the eulogy than the deceased's. Looking back at my aunt, yes her life was small by some standards and she spent most of it in the kitchen. But I remember all the kindness she served up with those latkes and other delicious foods. How she made me feel loved and at home (she babysat me at times while my parents worked). If I could go back in time I would give more meaning to those latkes. I hope the son in your example can eventually attach more meaning to his mother's brisket.
Susan
November 27, 2012
Lovely article and quite affirming. Thank you!
Marcia Naomi Berger
San Rafael
November 27, 2012
Vanity isn't the only reason...
,,,for trying to look younger. I'm the same person at 80 that I was at 40, but when people look at me they don't see me, they see a generic old lady. Gray hair, bent over, walking with a cane, can't drive at night, always looking for bargains with my coupons because I live on Social Security--no wonder nobody listens when I occasionally speak up. The stereotypes are overwhelming. People shout at me, though my hearing is excellent. Store personnel ignore me. It is assumed that I have never herd of the Internet--and I've been using computers since the Commodore64.
I lost a job the day after I turned 65. I could not get hired after that until I dyed my hair.
Fruma
Delray Beach, FL
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