Is Midlife Crisis a Crisis?
By Rabbi Yaacov Haber
If you're stuck - you can not be a leader of the Jewish people. If you're stuck - you can not be a Prophet. If you're stuck - you can not be a Torah scholar.
There were at least two million Jews traveling together with Moshe in the desert.
Amongst them were relatives of Moshe, Kohanim and elders. Yet almost from nowhere rose a protege to Moshe called Yehoshua. Yehoshua was at Moshes' side at all times. He led Moshe's war against Amalek, he never left Moshes' tent, and he listened in on the most important conversations in history, the conversations between Moshe and G-d.
What set Yehoshua apart from all the rest of the Jewish people? He wasn't family, he wasn't royalty, and he wasn't aristocracy. The answer is in the verse, “Yehoshua bin Nun, the child, never left Moshes tent.” The child! At the time of this episode Yehoshua was 57 years old, yet the Torah refers to him as a child!
The difference between a child and an adult is that a child has his whole life before him. He has to become something, he has to grow, he has to accomplish and he has to reach a goal. A child may trip but he jumps right up and tries again. A child is open to new ideas and is willing to consider almost anything.
When childhood is over we feel completed and accomplished. At 57 years old we should just be getting over our mid-life crisis; that last shot at fulfilling our dreams. After that, we are what we are. We become stuck. If you're stuck - you can not be a leader of the Jewish people. If you're stuck - you can not be a Prophet. If you're stuck - you can not be a Torah scholar. When a person stops growing the main purpose of life has ended.
When Jeremiah wanted to explain why he was privileged to hear the word of Hashem he explained, “ki naar anochi” (Jeremiah 1; 6) “because I am only a child” Even though he was in the twilight of his life. When Hosea wanted to explain why G-d has a special affinity toward the Jewish people he explained “Ki Naar Yisroel Veahevehu.” The Jewish people stayed young.
Yehoshua was 57 years old but he was a child. He was open to new ideas and his mind was fresh. He had the benefit of years but was not weighed down by them. He wasn't stuck! He was so not set in his ways that from all of Israel he qualified to be the great Moshe Rabeinu's successor.
A few years ago I had the great opportunity to meet and seek advice from the Ponevez Rosh Yeshiva HaRav Eliezer Shach A"H in Bnei Brak. At the time he was about 100 years old. In order to advise me better he asked me many questions. He wanted to know where I had learned, where I had lived, what techniques I use in outreach, where my children go to school and much more. He then asked me what sefer I have in my hand. (I had brought a sefer to read in the Taxi from Jerusalem to Bnei Brak). I told him it was a Tzidkas HaTzadik, the primary text of Rav Tzadok HaKohein. The Rav told me he was personally unfamiliar with the writings of Rav Tzadok and asked me to share something with him. At that point I excitedly began telling Rav Shach an interpretation of Rav Tzadok on the fifth page of tractate Brachos. Two minutes into my Dvar Torah the elder of the generation took my hand and looked at me with his very aged and saintly eyes and told me to stop. With tears in his eyes he commented that what he was hearing was different from what he had been learning for the last 90 years. He just didn't have the strength for anything new anymore. This was a powerful experience. He didn't cry over his dimming eyesight and frail health but rather because he didn't have the strength at 100 to do something new.
We always talk about what we have to give to our youth. Let's discuss, for a change, what we can learn from them.
We must always be willing to expand. Open a book that you don't usually open. Go to a shiur that you don't usually go to. Stay current with Yiddishkeit. As a people we are always growing and always expanding. Without new ideas there would be no Bais Yaakov, there would be no Chasidim, children wouldn't sing Anim Zmiros and there would be no Artscroll.
We can always object to change but the objection should never be that we didn't do it that way before.
King Solomon said, “Educate a child when he is young and even when he becomes old it will not leave him.” Reb Yisroel Salanter explained this to mean that even as the child ages the beautiful enthusiasm of youth will forever continue.
This week’s Dvar Torah is dedicated by the Rothkopf Family in honor of the engagement of Shira Rothkopf and Daniel Yerachmiel Neuman. May Hashem bless them with many happy and healthy years