Age is more than a number if it identifies your role in society. If you are in between 30 and 50, then Torah says you are of an age to be entrusted with the greatest priestly responsibilities. In this case I believe that the stated age, just like a suggested food expiration date, is probably not a strict limitation but rather a suggestion made. The suggestion is that spiritual work requires maturity and an appreciation for schlepping as holy work.
In Torah portion Naso we learn that those Levite (males only) between 30 and 50 are given duties to care for, set up and maintain the portable tabernacle where God’s presence is most potent among the people. The mishkan has to be reassembled each time the Israelite camp moves through the wilderness. To be efficient, the Levite families are divided up according to responsibilities, some as porters of pillars, and some toting the tent and others as hangers of curtains. This hardly seems like priestly work. Yet, when you put the pieces together, the result is a communal structure of paramount importance. The result of these handyman tasks is to enable both actual and spiritual journeying. Similarly, the mature person appreciates that it takes years of effort to construct a full spiritual life.
In my 50s I anticipated my “Levitical role” as a rabbinic career. Certainly, I could have read Torah and concluded that I was past my prime for sacerdotal duties. What I take away from this Torah portion is that, like the Levitical priests, today's spiritual leaders are called to set up the tabernacle -- which we do now through the rearranging of chairs and the transporting of prayerbooks. What draws most of us to rabbinic work is the inspirational part, not the schlepping and prepping. But the schlepping and prepping are an essential part of the spiritual journey. With maturity there is acceptance that some assemblage is required before enjoying the purposefulness of a spiritual life. Focus shifts to the end result of the work and not the demands of the process.
I’m beyond the prime age of Levitical service according to the text. Yet, I believe that I am in the most desirable religious demographic, one whose spiritual reaching moves beyond limitations of age and agility. I am prepared to serve my community, toting the furnishings for assembly along the spiritual way.
And my peers are figuring out life as AARP members with more mature discernment, greater financial means, and the flexible schedules of empty nesters. They are an ideal demographic for Levitical duties or greater community responsibility or spiritual journeys, precisely because they understand that the fulfillment of a spiritual life requires some heavy lifting and assemblage first. Sometimes we are the porters, carrying the planks that serve as the floorboards of a spiritual wakening. Later, we stand on the platform erected to reach beyond ourselves to become aware and discover meaning.
Torah suggests that the actual spiritual work might not start until one reaches the age of 30, and it begins with some heavy lifting. What are you willing to tote or assemble on your life’s spiritual journey? The best is yet to be, when you accept that first we have to be porters and assemblers; knowing that the spiritual life we want is one we have to work at to construct.
Rabbi Evan J. Krame