Mi-pnei seivah takum – “Rise before the aged!” This Biblical Commandment (Leviticus 19:32) is conspicuously posted on Israeli busses. Woe to the passenger of relative youth who neglects to surrender his seat to an elderly rider! Reverence for age is a deeply ingrained Jewish value, vociferously enforced by the Israeli commuting public.

Why rise before the aged? In practical terms, such deference accommodates the predictable fatigue and physical challenges that come with advancing years. Reverence for the elderly is also an extension of our personal obligation to honor our parents. Demonstrating respect for the elderly reflects a degree of self-interest: we invest in creating a society that will accord us similar consideration in years to come.

The Jewish People introduced humanity to the God of History… and the principle that God is to be found in the progression of history. The elderly have experienced more history than those of more modest vintage. To a very real extent, they embody history itself. With age and life experience, our Tradition presumes, comes increasing wisdom (see Kiddushin 32B). Moses himself only began his prophetic career at age 80. We honor wisdom – and Torah – when we respond to the moral mandate of Leviticus… and of Israeli bus etiquette.

(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)

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