Yom Kippur is full of constant refrains. The greatest poignancy of all attaches to Sh’ma Kolenu – “Hear our voice”, accompanied by the words, Al tashlichenu l’et ziknah – “Cast us not off in time of old age” (Psalm 71:10).
In Sparta old people were literally cast off, banished to the hillsides and left to die. History has many such usages.
I remember large public hospitals in London where old people were put in geriatric wards and abandoned. It wasn’t God who had cast them off, but society – in many cases, their own families: so much for the fairy tales about grandparents as honoured elders.
But since the neglect of old people was not because of God, why do we plead with Him to save us from becoming cast-offs?
It may be a prayer for Him to open the hearts of the younger generations to respect and support their elders.
But it may be something different altogether, a prayer that God may preserve us from being cast into old age before we are ready for it.
Some people are literally old before their time; others remain young even in their 80s and beyond (I had a friend of over 80 who was boyish to the end). Young minds, receptivity to new ideas, energy and vision – that’s all part of being young.