Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Finding Our Truest Self
At the Los Angeles Jewish Home, we understand that there is more to a person than body and mind. While we work hard to attend to the physical and intellectual needs of each person, we also know that in each person's spirit lies the source of their truest self.
Our beliefs define us. And attitudes about growing old, and especially about illness and suffering, are all affected by our belief structure. One person may feel suffering even in the absence of physical pain. Another may feel pain but not suffering.
How we handle life's difficulties, whether we see life as basically good or bad, is often a result — or an achievement — of our spiritual practice.
Spirituality and Aging
The rabbis believed that with aging comes wisdom. They believed that learning and experience over a lifetime leads to discernment and understanding. They also reminded us that we might live a lifetime before we discover what G-d wants from us or learn the meaning of our lives.
Consider two great biblical personalities — Abraham and Moses. Abraham first received God's call to leave for the land of Canaan when he was 75, and Moses heard the Lord's command at the burning bush when he was 80 years old! Fulfillment does not come to us until we are well prepared by life to receive it.
Still, many people fear growing old. Rather than welcoming the opportunity of each and every moment, they see advancing age as a time when physical abilities diminish, when they can no longer look after their own needs or stay in their own homes.
Psalms 71:9 best expresses the most basic fear of growing old when it says:
Do not cast me off in old age; when my
strength fails, do not abandon me.
But the anxieties of the moment must not blind us to the joy inherent in every day, or the immense achievement each one of our lives represents.
The Care of Our Elderly
Commandment number five of the Ten Commandments instructs us, saying:
Honor your father and your mother,
that your days may be lengthened...
Exodus, Chapter 20
The sages understood this commandment to mean that our responsibility — and the community's responsibility — is to ensure that our elderly are cared for. Indeed, if we practice this value, and teach it to succeeding generations, they will then care for us, thus extending our lives.
Enlightened care for our elderly is a function of our spiritual values. It respects the dignity of every individual no matter how old or infirm they are. It recognizes that our value as human beings is not determined by our productivity or by the size of our bank account, but by the fact that we were created in the image of G-d.
The Talmud teaches us that though we might be in the final stages of life — even in the process of dying — we are, each of us, as valuable, and invaluable, as any other living human being.
The Great Spiritual Questions
The Jewish Home is more than a place for Jewish elderly, for we serve people from diverse backgrounds and faiths. But our values are based in Jewish tradition and spirituality. Our beliefs about life and death and the dignity of every human life fuel our desire to care for our senior community with kindness and compassion.
We know that each soul must answer the great spiritual questions for him or herself. But here at the Jewish Home we seek to help seniors and their families find meaning and comfort from the wisdom and teachings, from the prayers, music and holy celebrations of our tradition.
Our spiritual and humanistic mission at the Los Angeles Jewish Home is to help ensure that no one in our community is overlooked or abandoned on life's long journey.