Honor the Elderly

etrog watercolor
Etrog, watercolor on paper by Leora Wenger, October 2011

What is beauty? Is it the Doryphorus, as the Greeks believed, the young man with the slender, slightly bent posture? According to Judaism, strangely enough, the elderly are considered beautiful, as it says in Kedoshim 19:32 –

“Rise in the presence of the aged and honor the face of the old man”
מִפְּנֵי שֵׂיבָה תָּקוּם, וְהָדַרְתָּ פְּנֵי זָקֵן

Honor the face of an old man could also be translated as “ascribe beauty to the elderly.” Who has knowledge like an elderly person? Who has overcome so much and come so far?

Note the word used here: hadar. Hadar is also used to describe the etrog. Unlike other fruits, the other “lives” for a long time on the tree and does not fall off on its own. The word in Hebrew is dar, similar to hadar. Does the etrog watercolor remind one of an older person? How?

(Credit for these ideas goes to Rabbi Bassous, for helping me remember parts of his speech to my husband, and for help with locating the pasuk to my middle son).

In honor of my father, my favorite elderly person, and in memory of my aunt, my father’s older sister who died earlier this year and who lived admirably as an older person (she was also an artist). In memory of my dear mother – her yahrzeit is next week. And in memory of Linda Greenberg, who tragically lost her battle with cancer this week and will never experience old age.

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9 thoughts on “Honor the Elderly

  • Your posts are always so interesting…this one was interesting and pulled at my heart strings…I have been thinking a lot about the family and friends I have lost lately…..I don’t know why….

    • Maybe you can adopt the Jewish custom of lighting a candle on the anniversary of their deaths. I painted some yahrzeit candles 3 years ago – http://www.leoraw.com/blog/2008/08/candles/.

      A friend who lost her husband about seven years ago said she finds the anniversary of his death harder now instead of easier. I thought maybe because the pain is no longer public – one no longer has people saying, I’m so sorry.

  • Your etrog (lemon to me)speech and painting made great sense and impact on me.When my mother stayed with us recently I brought the book of birthdays and death days for her to awaken her interest for both the present and the past again. The book is her dearest heritage from my grandmother, and now we did put two more death days in it.
    For every name it that book my mother had several stories. I cannot even begin to tell how my etrog mama taught and enriched me these days.
    I too am taught to honour the grey hair, but I have to admit, I dye my own.

    A spin-off to your etrog painting,- I obviously had to google the word,- and got a new lecture about “The four species”.
    I guess I’ve heard it before, but my brain is getting slippery as years go by.
    It makes so much sense and a deeper understanding of new life in the new year.

    By the way, sukkot is your New Year, and we gather in church afternoon December 31th to celebrate a common memorial of the ones passed this year. Their names are read from the pulpit. Another heritage from our Jewish roots. I wasn’t aware of that till now.

    I like getting old; I’m learning all the time.

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