“Rabbi, let me die!” Lola cried out to me, “I’m 95 years old, my entire body is perpetually weak and I’ve had enough. The machines are keeping me going, and it’s time to pull the plug.”
“Stop talking like that,” I ordered, shocked at her request, “your kids and grandchildren love you and you love them. If for no other reason, stick around for them!”
“They’ve agreed to my wishes,” said Lola, “yes, they love me, but honestly, they don’t respect me. I tell you, rabbi, every time they come to visit, I feel like I’m just a burden on their lives.”
Concerning the mitzvah of the etrog on Sukkot, the Torah states, “And you shall take for yourselves on the first day a beautiful (hadar) tree-fruit.”
Why is the etrog referred to as hadar? Rebbe suggests that the word be read as hadir, which means ‘the animal pen.’ Just like a pen contains both young and old animals living together, similarly the etrog is unique in that it carries its fruit for a number of years before they ripen. Thus, in any given year, one can find new etrogim from this year and old etrogim from previous years, growing side by side.
In our age of technology and incredible scientific advances, young people today have little respect for their elders. They scoff at their parents’ inability to master the most basic computer skills and believe that they will never be able to keep up in a rapidly changing world. The older generation is viewed as dinosaurs who are weighing us all down, as we surf the wave of the future.
And so tragically, it comes as no surprise that when questions such as assisted suicide are discussed, most people are in favour. ‘If they want to die, let them! What good are they doing us, anyway?’
Heaven forbid!! Our elders are our moral anchors. They are our inspiration. They are our wisdom. They hold the keys to our tradition. They are the most important resource we have in this world. Without being anchored in the values of the past, the future is meaningless. We are advancing nowhere.
The etrog is beautiful because it grows on a tree where old and young thrive together. Those who aspire to superficial, temporal beauty only place value upon the young and their external characteristics. Such trees are short-lived – they cannot even hold onto their fruit fall for more than a year at a time.
True beauty treasures the past. True beauty looks to the older generation for inspiration, for values, for meaning.
For every fashion magazine you pick up, pick up the phone and call a grey-haired person to seek their wisdom. For every new gadget you invest in, invest even more time in learning the secrets of life from one who has experienced it. And for every time you hear of a new scientific discovery, discover the morals and values of those who have brought us into the world as we know it.
Our elders are our most important asset. Let’s cherish them and never take them for granted.