Respect the Elderly
Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8 )
It's great being young. A young person is full of energy and bursting with ideas. Yet God wants us to respect the elderly who have the wisdom of long years of experience. In our Torah portion, Moses tells the Jewish nation about the types of evil people they may have to encounter in their history, and he describes them as being "a brazen people who will not respect the old." In other places, the Torah specifically instructs us that a Jew should always go out of his way to help an elderly person, Jewish or non-Jewish, with special kindness and respect. lder people have lived through a lot, and by honoring them and helping them it shows that we appreciate who they are and all they have been through.
In our story, a girl goes out of her way for an older person and comes out the winner.
"THE HIGH ROAD"
With a zoom the red-and-white intercity bus pulled up to the curb. It was rush hour and Sari knew that the bus would fill up very fast. When the door opened she tried to get on as quickly as possible in order to get a seat.
Sari was tired. It had been a long trip going to visit her grandma in the nursing home. It took a lot out of her, but she knew how much her grandma appreciated the company. Now the day was almost over, and Sari was anxious to plop down into a nice comfortable seat and maybe even catch a few winks on the ride home.
She got on quickly, paid the driver, and made a semi-frantic dash down the aisle to get a seat. Toward the back of the bus she found an empty window seat next to a girl she recognized from the neighborhood. The two exchanged friendly glances and made a bit of small talk.
"Congratulations," said the blonde-haired girl named Judy. "I see you're good at 'beating the crowd' to get a seat."
Sari smiled and sat back as the bus started to move. The girl next to her picked up a novel she had brought, and Sari settled into the freshly upholstered seat. Feeling her eyes growing heavy, she closed them and listened to the steady hum of the motor mixing with the animated chatter of the other passengers both sitting and standing on the crowded bus.
But just as she was about to doze off, Sari heard what sounded like heavy breathing, punctuated by an occasional sigh over her left shoulder. Stirring, she glanced up and saw, amongst the standees, an elderly looking woman in a flowered print dress. She looked uncomfortable as she held onto the handrail and tried to steady herself while the bus careened down the winding road.
"Gee," thought Sari, "Maybe I should give this lady my seat. She looks like she's having a pretty rough time." She glanced around the crowded bus and noticed that nearly everyone sitting down seemed much younger and stronger than the lady in the aisle. They were settled into their ride and didn't seem the least bit concerned about the elderly standee.
"Well, nobody else is standing up," Sari thought, "And I'll bet they're not half as tired as I am." She leaned back in her seat and tried to close her eyes, but she felt restless. She kept picturing her dear grandma, and then the lady in the aisle.
"How would I feel if my poor grandma had to stand like that?" she asked herself. Just then she felt a surge of energy and realized what she had to do. She tapped Judy on the shoulder. "Excuse me please," she said. "I have to get up."
The girl gave her a puzzled look, shrugged her shoulders and let Sari pass. Sari smiled at the older lady. "Pardon me, I believe there is an empty seat here," she said, pointing to what had been her own precious seat just a moment ago.
"Why thank you child," cooed the woman with a look of obvious relief. "I thought I would be all right standing, but I guess I'm not as young as I used to be," she added with a sweet smile and moved to sit down.
Sari felt great. She took a deep breath and held onto the hand rail. She was enjoying the scenery when a middle aged lady sitting next to her tugged on her sleeve. "Good for you!" she said. "You're an example for us all."
Sari beamed. This was one bus ride she would remember for a long time.
Q. If you were walking up to a check-out line in a supemarket and you noticed an old man also stepping up, would it be right to run ahead of him, or should you let him go first? Why?
A. You should let him go first because he's elderly and it might be hard for him to stand in line. But besides this, it's showing him respect, which is the right thing to do.
Q. How did Sari feel when she first found a seat?
A. She was tired and glad that she was quick enough to get one.
Q. How about after she let the older lady take her seat?
A. She felt even happier since she was able to honor and help an elderly person. And she didn't even feel so tired anymore either.
Q. Sari got the seat first. Wouldn't she have been justified keeping it for herself? Why or why not?
A. True, she had gotten there first. But "first come first served" is not always right. Because of her age and the special respect due to her, the older lady should get the seat.
Q. What did the lady at the end of the story mean when she told Sari she was an example for others? Why do you think the other people didn't get up?
A. There were many people on the bus who could have stood up for the elderly lady. In fact, if they had been asked directly most of them would have probably given up their seat for her. But it's likely that many of them simply pretended not to see, or rationalized that someone else should do it. Sari resisted this temptation and did the right thing. The Torah recognizes this human tendency and goes out of its way to teach us not to close our eyes in situations like this.
Q. What are some other ways to honor the aged?
A. We can stand up for them as they walk by as a sign of respect. We can call them Mr. or Mrs., Sir, etc. and not by their first names. Generally, we can speak extra respectfully to them. Also we can offer a hand to help them stand up or cross the street.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. An elderly person didn't necessarily do anything to earn one's respect other than to grow old. Is this sufficient reason to treat him or her differently than others? Why or why not?
A. Life can be hard. Even a person whose life proceeded more or less "normally" certainly faced many difficult situations over the years and endured a great deal. This in itself earns that person honor. Additionally, by living a lengthy life, an elderly person has learned through experience a number of valuable lessons and acquired wisdom; such life experience deserves honor as well.
Q. In your opinion, are our relationships with elderly people merely a one-way street, where we simply do what we have to do to honor them and gain nothing in return. Or perhaps is there something to be gained by becoming involved in their lives?
A. Certainly even when we do a one-way kindness, we gain by improving our character. In the case of the elderly however, we have much to gain besides this -- for one thing, we can learn a lot from them. The experiences of life have given them a certain wisdom and perspective that younger people lack. Also when they share their life stories with us they become a "living link" to the past. Knowing more about where we came from can help us to better understand who we are.