La'dor va'dor. From generation to generation. The idea of la'dor va'dor is that we pass Torah from our elders to our youth and back again--from older to younger; from younger to older. The movement of this learning--this wisdom--serves to guide and inspire our whole community throughout the unfolding of our entire lives.
As things stand now, the vast majority of our congregational resources--time, energy, and money--go into training Jewish children to become viable, active, informed Jewish adults, comfortable in their own skin and practice. Of course, this is a noble and necessary goal; but while such focus is essential to our success as an organized Jewish community, it's not enough--not if we want to be great at cultivating lifelong Jewish engagement.
Throughout the Birchat Ha-Shachar, our morning blessings summon our thanksgiving for all aspects of our lives: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. To simply open our eyes and begin another day. To breathe. To be able to sit up and put on our shoes. To think. To feel. To yearn. To learn and grow. To feel human. All are basic activities that inhabit our whole lives, and it's vital for us as a thriving Jewish community to remember that. To act upon it. To invest in it. To expand on it.
Just recently I was at a house of mourning and reunited with a lifelong friend and mentor, an active Jewish learner who has concern about how her community, too, could focus more beyond Bar/Bat Mitzvah training. Afterward, I opened this week's Torah portion, Beha'alot'cha and found a pathway to this greater focus. At first, I was startled to learn that God forced 50-year old Levites to step down from their special duties. Apparently, God is concerned that they might be too proud to do so on their own as they get older and their physical dexterity and eyesight begin to wane. I am thinking: "Yikes, 50 years is way too young. I'm 50!" Of course, I realize that a 50-year-old in 2017 is not a 50-year-old 5,000 years ago, and that as a 50-year-old now I am entitled to expect a long life ahead of me. But then I heard the echoes of the conversation with my friend. She said to me that when she turned 60 she began to think a lot more about the end of life; and now, in her mid-seventies, she thinks even more about making the life she has left matter--applying Jewish wisdom to her changing physicality, her existential feelings about life and death... tending to her bucket list. As a congregation, we ought to be thinking more about making life matter in this way.
Now, the parasha is very reassuring in that it celebrates the wisdom that comes with the aging Levites and calls them to la'dor va'dor, "to mentor the next generation and pass on the knowledge gained from a lifetime of service, [ensuring] that the next generation of Levites will do their best to assist Israelites on their path to holiness." (Bible Professor K. Garroway) And, so too, can our elders serve our community in helping our youth forge pathways to the sacred, in helping them morph into contributing adults. I call you to such service. And yet, however precious, this effort will not be enough. We who are younger must also serve you, our elders, and walk with you as you grow older and encounter meaningful challenges of mind, body and spirit, as you confront uncertainty and fear, as you seek blessing and holiness, as you live lives that matter for the duration. I assure you--and everyone in our community--that this is my commitment to you as people of spirit, practice and purpose, wherever you are in life, whatever you desire.
Make it a day of blessing and be a force for good!