Across the ages

When the famed writer Isaac Bashevis Singer reached the age of 60, he told his friend he knew he would live to 120. “How can you be so sure?” his friend asked. “Because,” explained Singer, “when I went for my checkup my doctor told me I was half dead.”

Many cultures discuss what is appropriate to each age. Thirty is the age of strength in the Talmud, the age of courting, according to Greek thinker Solon, the age when Confucius “planted his feet firm on the ground.” At 60, the age of Singer’s quip, the Talmud says he is becoming an elder in wisdom, and for Confucius, he has become a good listener.

As life extends, roles change, but there are still clear stages through which people pass, chronicled by everyone from Shakespeare in poetry to Erik Erikson in psychology. Age is the inevitable division, as youth has not experienced growing old and old age is often hazy in its recollection of youth, and the world has changed.

We therefore owe it to one another to share across ages as we do culture and background. Each age has its passion and its lesson. As Rav Kook said in another context, it  is our task to renew the old and sanctify the new.

About the Author
Named the most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek Magazine and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post, David Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California.