Respecting Our Elderly

Some time ago, I heard a young man address his congregation on the occasion of becoming a bar mitzvah. His grandfather, who had lived far away, had died a few months before. The young man spoke about the importance of treating the elderly with respect, and then expressed regret that his own family has not visited the beloved grandfather often enough.

The parents winced. I hope they were also proud that their son forthrightly promoted the Torah teachings of kibbud av v’eim “honoring parents,” and lifei seiva takum “arise in the presence of the elderly,” that is, respecting our elders.

This reminded me of a story. An old man went to live with his son and daughter-in-law. “We hope you will be comfortable here,” they told him.

“As long as I am surrounded by loving family, I will be happy,” the old man replied. “There is strength left in these old hands, and I intend to help around the house.”

The next morning, the old man thought he’d make everyone breakfast, but he dropped several eggs on the floor in his attempt to break them into a bowl.

“Your hands are trembling,” his daughter-in-law remarked. “Here, let me do that so I don’t have to clean up the mess.”
The next day, the old man thought to take the garbage out to the road. He dropped the bags, it split open, and the garbage was scattered about. The son, arriving home from work said, “Dad, don’t you bother yourself. It takes longer to pick up the trash all over the driveway than it does for me to just take it out myself.”

A year later, the daughter-in-law gave birth to a baby. The old man was thrilled, and held the child with great tenderness, but he could see immediately that the baby’s parents were concerned lest he drop the infant.

The child grew and was a delight. Time went by, and the old man’s tremors grew worse. He began to drool a bit. Occasionally, he would drop his dinner plate and it would shatter on the floor.

His daughter-in-law lost patience. “How clumsy!” she shouted.

After that, she set the old man’s place at a separate table where his drooling would not bother her, and set his place with a crude wooden bowl that could not be broken.

One day, the son and daughter-in-law found their own child chipping away industriously at a chunk of wood.

“What are you making?” they asked.

“I’m carving wooden bowls for you when you grow old,” the child replied.

The parents were stunned. The entered the house, gathered the old man in their arms tenderly, set a place for him at the table, fed him off the best china with a silver spoon, and wiped away his drool.

The Talmud warns us to treat well one who is old and has forgotten much, reminding us that when Moses descended Mt. Sinai and saw the Israelites worshiping a golden calf, he smashed the tablets. What became of the pieces? They were gathered up and placed in the Ark of the Covenant together with the new set of tablets, their sanctity never diminished.

Rabbi Scheinerman wrote this article for the Carroll County Times.