Ki Tavo(Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8)
Out Of Our Way
When we are feel full of energy and bursting with ideas, we may sometimes find it hard to relate to elderly people. Elderly people used to be young - just like us - and have moved further along in life, picking up valuable wisdom and experience along the way. God holds older people in high esteem, and wants us to as well. In our Torah portion, Moses tells the Jewish nation about the types of nations they may have to encounter throughout history. He describes an evil nation as "a brazen people who will not respect the old." The Torah specifically instructs us to go out of our way to help elderly people, with special kindness and respect. Older people have seen a lot, and learned a lot. By honoring them and helping them, it shows that we appreciate who they are and all they have experienced.
In our story, a girl goes out of her way for an older person and comes out the winner.
"TAKING A STAND"
"Okay, it's time once again for musical chairs," Karen Heller thought to herself with a smile, as the bus pulled up to the curb. It was smack in the middle of rush hour and Karen knew that the bus would fill up very fast. Seats were limited, and if Karen didn't get one, she would either have to stand up for the long ride home or wait another half an hour for the next intercity bus. Neither option particularly thrilled the tired girl.
It had been a long day for her, visiting her grandma in the nursing home. Even though it took a lot out of her, Karen knew how much her grandma appreciated the company. But now the day was almost over, and she was anxious to plop down into a nice comfortable seat and maybe even catch a few zzz's on the ride home.
With a combination of luck and adept maneuvering, Karen found herself near the front of the line as the door opened. She got on quickly, paid the driver, and made the usual semi-frantic dash down the aisle to get a seat. Toward the back of the bus she found an empty window seat next to a girl she recognized from the neighborhood. The two exchanged friendly glances and made a bit of small talk.
"Congratulations," said the red-haired girl named Judy. "I see you know how to beat the crowd to get a seat."
Karen smiled and sat back as the bus started to move. The girl next to her picked up a novel she had brought, and Karen settled into the freshly upholstered seat. Feeling her eyes growing heavy, she closed them and listened to the steady hum of the motor mixing with the animated chatter of the other passengers both sitting and standing on the crowded bus.
But just as she was about to doze off, Karen heard what sounded like heavy breathing, punctuated by an occasional sigh over her left shoulder. Stirring, she glanced up and saw, amongst the standees, an elderly looking woman in a flowered print dress. She looked uncomfortable as she held onto the handrail and tried to steady herself while the bus careened down the winding road.
"Gee," thought Karen, "maybe I should give this lady my seat. She looks like she's having a pretty rough time." She glanced around the crowded bus and noticed that nearly everyone sitting down seemed much younger and stronger than the lady in the aisle, but they were settled into their ride and didn't seem the least bit concerned about the elderly woman.
This made the girl have second thoughts. "Well, nobody else is standing up, and I'll bet they're not half as tired as I am." She leaned back in her seat and tried to close her eyes, but she felt restless. She kept picturing her dear grandma, and then the lady in the aisle.
"How would I feel if my poor grandma had to stand like that?" she asked herself. Just then she felt a surge of energy and realized what she had to do. She tapped Judy on the shoulder. "Excuse me please," she said. "I have to get up."
The girl gave her a puzzled look and let Karen pass. Karen smiled at the older lady. "Pardon me, I believe there is an empty seat here," she said, pointing to what had been her own precious seat just a moment ago.
"Why thank you child," cooed the woman with a look of obvious relief. "I thought I would be all right standing, but I guess I'm not as young as I used to be," she added with a sweet smile, and moved to sit down.
Karen felt great. She took a deep breath and held onto the handrail. She was enjoying the scenery when a middle aged lady sitting next to her tugged on her sleeve. "Good for you!" she said. "You're an example for us all."
Karen beamed. Although she usually liked to sit, she was glad that this time she had decided to take 'a stand'.
Q. How did Karen feel when she first found a seat?
A. She was tired and glad that she was quick enough to get one before someone else did.
Q. How about after she let the older lady take her seat?
A. She felt even happier since she was able to honor and help an elderly person. And she didn't even feel so tired anymore either. The good deed she did gave her energy.
Q. Karen did get the seat first. Wouldn't she have been justified keeping it for herself?
A. While its true, she had gotten there first, but "first come first served" is not always the only priority. Because of her age and the special respect due to her, the older lady needed the seat more than the strong young girl, and the sensitive and right thing to do was to give up the seat for her.
Q. What did the lady at the end of the story mean when she told Karen she was an example for others? Why do you think the other people didn't get up?
A. There were many people on the bus who could have stood up for the elderly lady. If they had been asked directly most of them would have even given up their seat for her. But it's likely that many of them simply pretended not to see, or rationalized that someone else should do it. Karen resisted this temptation and did the right thing. The Torah recognizes this human tendency and goes out of its way to teach us not to close our eyes in situations like this.
Q. What are some other ways to honor the aged?
A. We can stand up for them as they walk by as a sign of respect. We should call them Mr. or Mrs., Sir, etc. and not by their first names. Generally, we can speak extra respectfully to them. We can also offer a hand to help them stand up or cross the street.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Not every older person is wise or learned. What if an elderly person didn't do anything special with their life other than to grow old? Need we still treat someone like that with extra respect?
A. Life can be hard. Even a person whose life proceeded more or less "normally" faced many difficult situations over the years and endured a great deal. This in itself earns that person honor. Additionally, by living a lengthy life, every elderly person has learned through experience a number of valuable lessons and acquired some wisdom; such life experience deserves honor as well.
Q. In your opinion, are our relationships with elderly people merely a one-way street, where we simply do what we should to honor them - but gain nothing in return? Or do you think there something to be gained by becoming involved in their lives?
A. Certainly even when we do a one-way kindness, we gain by improving our character. In the case of the elderly however, we have much to gain besides this - for one thing, we can learn a lot from them. The experiences of life have given them a certain wisdom and perspective that younger people lack. Also when they share their life stories with us they become a "living link" to the past. Knowing more about where we came from can help us to better understand who we are.
Q. What are some ways to honor the aged?