“Old people are apes,” the Midrash asserts.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk explained:

It begins as soon as you figure you know who you are. From that point on, you simply ape the character you’ve assigned yourself—and you get worse and worse at it as you go. And that’s called growing old.

Which is now becoming a major issue for me. For years my motto was, “I have found the elixir of eternal youth, and it is immaturity.” When people would ask, “Where did you grow up?” I would respond, “Why do you make assumptions?”

But hey, I just rolled over the 60 mark a few weeks back. “Old people are apes.”I’ve got to gain at least some semblance of dignity. I’m a grandfather, for heaven’s sake, several times over. People come asking for advice, as though I learned something from all my mistakes.

But old? G‑d forbid. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov agreed with me. “To become old,” he said, “is a grave sin.”

It makes sense. Life is forever new. “Old” is something that sits there, looking the same today as yesterday, as it will tomorrow—just a little, well, older. Here’s a tidbit: “Old” and “sleeping” are spelled exactly the same in Hebrew, ישן. You get old by sleeping through life.

Hebrew is neat. In all of Hebrew literature, you’ll never find the term “old” applied to a living being. Wine can be old. A house can be old. You could be reading this article in two months from now, and by then, by Internet standards, it will be old. But there’s no such thing as person who’s a ישן man or woman. You say zaken, and that, they say, is a contraction of the phrase zeh shekanah chochmah—one who has acquired wisdom. But in Hebrew, even an animal is not called old.

So I figure I have two things to do with life. One is to grow up. The other is to remain forever a child. If it’s a standoff between the two, the second trumps, hands down.

But is there really a conflict? Could it be that growing up is all about remaining a child as long as you can?

That sounds ridiculous, but then so does quantum physics, aerodynamics and Frisbee football. And like all that stuff, it works.

Even the ancient pharaoh who interviewed Jacob got it. He In Hebrew, there’s no such thing as an old man.didn’t ask Jacob, “How old are you, old man?” He asked, “How many are the days of your life?” As though days are not things that do something to you (i.e., make you old), but things you do something with—i.e., collect.

How do you collect days? By starting each one as a newborn child, full of wonder, entering each experience expecting to be surprised, always willing to try new things, putting all your strength into pulling yourself forward no matter how little you appear to move, standing up again no matter how many times you’ve fallen down, and running ahead no matter how many times you smash into a wall. Laughing at stupid things, celebrating the small stuff and smiling to any stranger.

Never decide, “I’m a pessimist; that’s just who I am.” Tomorrow you can be an optimist.

Never decide, “I’m not a believer. I don’t do Shabbat candles. I don’t wrap leather boxes. I’m not going to be a hypocrite.”

You’re a hypocrite only when you’re stuck in the mud and pretend you’re still moving. But if you’re alive, you do it by changing your mind and changing your way of life, again and again. Because the only guy who never changes is the one six feet under. Or the one who stopped being a child and started being an ape.

Once you start repeating the same day over and over again, once you say, “Been there, done that, am that,” once you’ve decided who you are and what this world is about, you’ve stopped collecting days, you’ve stopped acquiring wisdom, and a part of you has already died. The days are collecting you. They’ve started making you old.

My father-in-law, You get old when you stop growing up, and you grow up by remaining a child.an Argentinean Kabbalist who doubled by day as a professor of computer science, used to say, “There are people who have seventy years of experience, and there are people who have experienced a year seventy times.”

It turns out you get old when you stop growing up, and you grow up by remaining a child. Because every day has a new lesson to teach, one that no other day can ever tell you. And that’s how you gain wisdom, to become a zaken.

Describing Abraham, Sarah and King David in their later years, the Torah says, “They came into their days.” They invested all of themselves into each and every day they lived. That’s a lot of wisdom to acquire. A lot of childhood to share.

As for me, I’m planning to live forever. So far, so good. Each day is another forever.