Kinah 26- Growing Old

Jul 11th, 2013 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Holidays, Prayer, Spiritual Growth
Many people have been speaking of old age, specifically, an essay by Oliver Sacks: “When my time comes, I hope I can die in harness, as Francis Crick did. When he was told that his colon cancer had returned, at first he said nothing; he simply looked into the distance for a minute and then resumed his previous train of thought. When pressed about his diagnosis a few weeks later, he said, “Whatever has a beginning must have an ending.” When he died, at 88, he was still fully engaged in his most creative work.”

Oliver Sacks – The Joy of Old Age. (No Kidding.)

When I think of the Patriarchs, I imagine them living their old age as did Francis Crick, and as is Dr. Sacks. We are introduced to Abraham when he was seventy-five, and he surely seems to live at that point and for many more decades as Hokusai wrote in the preface to his Hundred Views of Fuji:

“All I have produced before the age of seventy is not worth taking into account.

At seventy-three I learned a little about the real structure of nature, of animals, plants, trees, birds, fishes and insects.

In consequence when I am eighty, I shall have made still more progress. At ninety I shall penetrate the mystery of things; at a hundred I shall certainly have reached a marvelous stage; and when I am a hundred and ten, everything I do, be it a dot or a line, will be alive. I beg those who live as long as I to see if I do not keep my word. Written at the age of seventy-five by me, once Hokusai, today Gwakio Rojin, the old man mad about drawing.”

However, when we read of Jeremiah running to the grave of the Patriarchs at the time of the Destruction, begging them to pray for their children, I imagine Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob rising up in the more classical approach to growing old:

What is it to grow old?” asked Matthew Arnold, and gave a depressing answer:

…’Tis not to have our life

Mellowed and softened as with sunset-glow

…’Tis not to see the world

As from a height, with rapt prophetic eyes,

And heart profoundly stirred. . . .

It is to spend long days

And not once feel that we were ever young;

. . . Deep in our hidden heart

Festers the dull remembrance of a change,

But no emotion–none!

Everyone remembers Cephalus, Plato’s dear old man at the beginning of the Republic: ‘Old age has a great sense of peace and freedom. When the passions have lost their hold, you have escaped, as Sophocles says, not only from one mad master, but from many!’ Perhaps we also remember Isaac feeling old long before his death and being (Seemingly) hoodwinked by Rebecca and Jacob, described by the Midrash as “free from the Evil Inclination,” what Sophocles would describe as, “not only from one mad master, but from many!”

When the ancient Patriarchs were awakened by Jeremiah and heard the news of the destruction and exile, they rise up as in the days of old, but quickly age and experience, in the words of TS Eliot:

Let me disclose the gifts reserved for age

To set a crown upon your lifetime’s effort.

First, the cold friction of expiring sense

Without enchantment, offering no promise

But bitter tastelessness of shadow fruit

As body and soul begin to fall asunder.

Second, the conscious impotence of rage

At human folly, and the laceration

Of laughter at what ceases to amuse.

And last, the rending pain of reenactment

Of all that you have done, and been; the shame

Of motives late revealed, and the awareness

Of things ill done and done to others’ harm

Which once you took for exercise of virtue.

We observe this devastating aging process through the eyes of this Kinah, and begin to understand how Tisha b’Av can age us as well, suck away our energy; that the absence of the Temple leaves us, “Without enchantment, offering no promise – But bitter tastelessness of shadow fruit – As body and soul begin to fall asunder.”  Without a Temple we experience, “the rending pain of reenactment – Of all that you have done, and been; the shame – Of motives late revealed, and the awareness – Of things ill done and done to others’ harm – Which once you took for exercise of virtue.” (“The Cosmic Effect”)

When we cease to experience that our actions matter – that we can make a difference, large or small – we age. When we live like that, we suck out the spiritual breath of the world, even that inhaled by the Patriarchs.

Jeremiah goes to the Patriarchs and pleads with them to pray, to reenergize the world with their prayer, even as their descendants experience a loss of meaning.

I believe that this is why we pray our regular prayers even on the day when the Heavens are shut to them; we are attempting to nurture positive spiritual energy even as we mourn. It is our statement that we do not accept mourning as a state of being, certainly not one we will not fight.

Yesterday, someone emailed the following question: “do you think we are mourning the absence of the temple, or the absence of what we need to be in order to merit having the temple?”

My answer was, “Definitely the latter.” We are mourning our inability to connect to the Covenant Between The Pieces-Kinah 12. We age, in the negative way, when we lose that connection, so we turn, as did Jeremiah, to the Patriarchs and join them in prayer. By joining their prayers, we join in God’s. We don’t have to die, as in Sack’s words, “in the harness” before first living in it!

 

Author Info:
Learn & discover the Divine prophecies with Rabbi Simcha Weinberg from the holy Torah, Jewish Law, Mysticism, Kabbalah and Jewish Prophecies. The Foundation Stone™ is the ultimate resource for Jews, Judaism, Jewish Education, Jewish Spirituality & the holy Torah.

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