Age is an invitation and not a closed door. Take this week’s Torah portion, Naso. A census of the Levitical tribes is required. The priests with caretaking duties between the ages of 30 and 50 are recorded and enlisted for duties in the Tent of Meeting, where sacrifices were offered. We can opine as to why this age range was best suited for priestly duties – was it an assumption about agility or ability peaking between these ages? Perhaps it was merely to limit the ages of services so as to allow another generation to learn and step up to the tasks. I was intrigued by a more modern idea. Perhaps it is that at different ages we can offer different qualities of spiritual leadership. For me, this is an opportunity to notice how new doors of spiritual leadership opened for me after the age of 50.
I do not claim to be priest-like, but I am a recently ordained Rabbi. I was 56 on the day of my ordination. I am acutely aware of my age, not because I fear death or disability, but rather in gratitude that I have the skills at this age to lead and inspire others and even the chance for more personal growth. In Biblical understanding, there are many age indicators. 20 years is the age of counting males in the census for a military role (Numbers 1:3). 70 years is considered a full life (Psalm 90:10). Despite any indication from the Torah that I may be past my peak age for certain priestly duties, I believe that I am in prime time for a rabbinical role. I have life experience to share. I have had personal challenges to both soften my heart and toughen my skin. I have an ever expanding spiritual life and relationship with God, that I would not have imagined possible when I was 30 or even 50.
There was a time when my mind may have better retained new information or when I could hit a tennis ball much harder. Yet, I try to focus on the new opportunities offered me precisely because I am 57. It just means that I accept the limitations as well as the capacities. This does not cause me to despair but rather connect with the application of wisdom gained by my life experience. There are new opportunities in growing and maturing. As Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, z’l, described it, I want to transform “aging into saging.”
Rabbi Evan Krame