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    The hoary head – K’doshim

    The sidra tells us, “You shall rise before the hoary head and honour the presence of the old person” (Lev. 19:32). King Solomon said, “Old age is a crown of glory” (Prov. 16:31).

    Treating old people with respect was always part of Judaism, but other cultures had a different idea. To them old people were a nuisance, and the sooner they died, the better.

    In the Jewish estimation, the old person deserved to be honoured because they had struggled for the sake of society. So what if they now had failing faculties?

    Some were blessed like Moses, still agile in body and sharp in mind at the age of 120. Others were not so fortunate. They themselves could wryly read the 12th chapter of Kohelet as a description of their own decline.

    When I was chaplain to an Australian war veterans’ association we had a member called Lindsay Joseph who had served as long ago as the Boer War and in his 90s was still climbing ladders and affixing flags to flagpoles.

    He used to say (quoting someone else, though he may not have realised this), “No-one gets old by living long. You only become old when you desert your ideals”.

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