Heschel: “Prepare a spiritual income for old age”

There is a marvellous little essay called “To Grow in Wisdom” in Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book The Insecurity of Freedom: Essays on Human Existence.

In it, he speaks about “our twin problem [of] the attitude of society to the old and old age as well as the attitude of the old to being old.”

Throughout this essay, Heschel makes the case for old age being an age of “opportunities for inner growth.”

However, this can only be the case if, throughout a person’s life, he or she has cultivated the proper interior life, a sense of what matters and is most relevant ultimately, and the spiritual resources to live old age meaningfully.

Most of the time, Heschel says, the elderly are distracted with evasions and diversions in old age because they (and often their caregivers and families) have substituted ritual for recreation and celebration for entertainment.

“The ancient principle—listen to the voice of the old—becomes meaningless when the old have nothing meaningful to say.”

Perhaps this is a contributing factor to the modern breakdown in intergenerational solidarity — that so many of the old in our society are so existentially impoverished themselves that they do not think they have within them anything or permanent value to contribute to the younger generations.

I take seriously what Heschel says about youth being a preparation for old age when I consider and choose the activities that I am pursuing now.

It is not enough to have a retirement savings account; we must also store up existential treasures that will not only be memories for us in our old age but that will give us the audacity to never stop dreaming, praying, and hoping.

Rabbi Heschel concludes this essay saying that we always have the three things that are necessary to “attain a sense of significant being” and that these are: God, a Soul, and a Moment.

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