Los Angeles Jewish Home's Blog

Letter from the Rabbi – Blessings of Aging

One of my classes is called “Conversation with the Rabbi”, and the conversation last week was real and fascinating. Everyone knows the disadvantages of aging: the loss of mobility and other restrictions, the aches and pains, the fact that one is no longer looking forward to a long life of dreams and possibilities, and, in many cases, the lingering loneliness after the death of a husband or wife. But I wanted to know the other side of the coin. I asked each resident present to tell me if there were any advantages to old age. (It’s natural I should want to know, as that stage of my life gets ever closer!)

I expected to get laughed at. But instead, almost every resident in the class was able to talk about some of the blessings of being older. Some talked of being wiser. Others spoke of the joy of watching their families – their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren – and that this time of life was filled with the love they could give to their families, and the love they received from them. With less responsibility now, there was greater time and freedom just for the good things. Another theme emerged, too. There was time and opportunity to reach out and help others here at the Home. Many talked of living in the Jewish Home as a blessing: they received so much, and could also give so much.

None of these residents was being starry-eyed. None pretended that old age was just paradise, without real disadvantages. One woman said: there are good things about being older, but there are more bad things. But even she was happy to tell me about the blessings in her life.

Let me tell you about one of the Torah stories we read this month. The Israelites, on their journey towards the Promised Land, passed through a country whose king was so frightened of them that he called on Balaam, a foreign prophet, to come and curse them. But God made sure that all the words that came out of Balaam’s mouth were not words of curse, but instead words of blessing, telling of the Israelites’ future success.

Just as God turned curse into blessing, we too have the ability – if only we are willing – to turn curse into blessing. I often talk of recognizing God’s blessing in the events of our life – even seemingly negative events. This is not something magical, like kidding ourselves that dark is really light. But we do have greater power over our lives than we often think. Many years ago I was asked, how does one become blessed? I answered that if we feel blessed, then we are blessed. Changing our attitude towards life can actually change the way we experience life. That is the way we turn curse into blessing.

A resident who has recently changed location within the Home has been finding it so painful leaving behind familiar people – both residents and staff – that she can’t enjoy life where she is now. I know this can be painful, but I have also been suggesting to her that each day she try to find one good thing about her new surroundings, one little blessing. She tells me she is still finding it difficult, but I believe she is beginning to experience good, to find blessing in her new life.

Another resident can’t throw off a great weakness, and is wondering whether she is coming close to the end of her life. She says she feels this as failure, but I have been encouraging her to look at what a positive life she has led and how she has all her faculties – and her sense of humor – in her late nineties. I hope she can come to see her life as a blessing, even now, as that life may possibly be moving towards its end – an end that is of course an inevitable part of all our lives.

In the story, Balaam’s lips wanted to speak negative things, just like so many of us want to speak or think of the negative in our lives. Perhaps we can let God help us to change those words on our lips into positive recognition of our blessings. Let’s speak those words of blessing out loud, just as Balaam did. Each morning we could thank God out loud – for another day of life, or for the prospect of sitting out in the sun, or for some other blessing, such as family, or friends, or a favorite nurse, or indeed the blessing of the Home itself.

Rabbi Anthony Elman Rabbi Anthony Elman serves as Rabbi of the Jewish Home's Grancell Village Campus. His professional background is multifaceted, encompassing the fields of law, social work, and psychotherapy. Rabbi Elman has been with the Home since his ordination and graduation from the Academy for Jewish Religion-California in May 2007

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