Monday, April 28, 2008

Rami's Reply to Mike 4/28

Thanks for your take on these things. I appreciate your interpretations of Jesus’ sayings, though I suspect we could much more deeply into them if we chose.

As for the link between caring for parents and thriving in the Promised Land, I think the Bible is reflecting the consensus of many Near Eastern legal codes that link inheritance of one’s parent’s property and wealth to the quality of care one provides for one’s parents in their last years. Children can only inherit their parent’s land if they honor them and provide for their welfare. The Torah is simply affirming the legal precedent that inheritance is not a birthright, as one might assume from the story of Jacob and Esau, but comes with social responsibilities.

The Fifth Commandment has personal relevance for me. Having spent five years helping to care for my mother-in-law I am acutely aware of the challenges posed to middle aged children by aged, ill, and dying parents. I look to the health of my parents and worry that my sister, who lives quite close to them, will be burdened with their care, while I who live hundreds of miles away will not.

I worry about meeting my obligations to my parents, and about being there for my sister when my parents are no longer capable of taking care of themselves.

And I take the Fifth Commandment as a social challenge. Our society is segregated by age. Older middle-aged people often retire to children-free communities, and put their parents in facilities for the elderly that are often little more than holding tanks for the near dead. The horrors and abuses that occur at old age and nursing homes are in the news regularly.

We live in a society that worships youth and fears old age. This may change as the boomer generation enters its final decades, but I fear that the lack of respect for the wisdom of the elder will remain even when the boomers themselves are the elders.
Abraham, Sarah, and Moses were in their eighties when God called them to lead. The Bible has a respect for the aged that our society lacks.

My rabbi, Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, has created a program for the elderly called “From Aging to Saging” and has written a wonderful book on the topic with the same name. He speaks of harvesting one’s wisdom, going over what one has learned in the seventy or eighty or ninety years of one’s life, and making it available to people. He asks the elderly, “Are you saved?” What he means by this is not theological, but technological. Just as you must remember to save your work on a hard drive if it is to endure the shut down of your central processing unit, so you have to save your life–wisdom so that it will survive the shut down of your body. When people die unsaved, their wisdom dies with them.

One way to save your wisdom is to write an Ethical Will. In Judaism people are urged to keep an ethical will, a diary or journal of their life and what they have learned from living it. This Ethical Will bequeathed to their children and grandchildren along with any property they may own.

As a rabbi I have helped dozens of people get started on writing Ethical Wills. Some choose to write, others to record their thoughts on CDs or visually on DVDs. It is always a wonderful process. It reminds us that we have so much more to offer those we love then the stuff we have accumulated.

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