Young and Foolish, Old and Grumpy?

With apologies to all senior citizens, (a civilized sobriquet if there ever was one) I am going to ask you a question:

What is the one word in English literature that occurs more frequently than any other directly after the words “crotchety,” “curmudgeonly,” or “cranky”?  If you answered “old” you are quite correct.  You’ll nearly always read “the crotchety old woman” or “that curmudgeonly old man”.  I am certainly not suggesting that all senior citizens are crabby or cantankerous but apparently enough are to have earned the connection.

Apart from being a warning to us all to avoid acquiring those unpleasing characteristics as we age, it also raises a question.  What in heaven’s name was in God’s mind with this verse:

You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old;
you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.
(Leviticus 19:32)

Other than managing to survive for six (seven, eight, nine? Fill in the number of your choice) decades or more, what exactly has an ill-tempered old man done to deserve such respect?  Therein lies an important insight from ancient Jewish wisdom.  An old person might indeed be a bit grumpy and grouchy but he or she has seen a bit of life.  If nothing else, the elderly have experienced more of life than people in their twenties.  Why does that qualify them for such a level of respect?

Through His love for each and every person, God wants us to live happy and fulfilling lives.  What makes that so hard is that we all have our own ideas of what constitutes a happy and fulfilling life.  If we make bad choices, the appalling results of those bad choices usually only become evident when it is already too late for a do-over.  In other words, if we all lived for a thousand years, by the time we reached middle age and had experienced life for five or six hundred years, we’d be quite wise.  Unfortunately, our life span is considerably shorter.  What is more, most of us make critical life decisions long before we’ve even lived three decades.  What chance to we have?  The odds aren’t good.

Not surprisingly, many men make bad educational and career decisions based on deceptive data.  Many women dissipate crucial years confident that if and when they might possibly desire marriage and children, the necessary matrimonially-minded men will magically appear.  Many men and women debase their marriages and disparage their spouses until divorce seems a welcome respite.  Many mothers and fathers without a clue about how to acculturate the next generation provide no guidance to the children they bring into the world. 

Obviously, few of these disasters would occur if people were able to carefully observe others making their mistakes for a few hundred years.  Since that is impossible, in His goodness, God provided us with the next best thing: a Book which teaches the wisdom of the ages.  By studying this book, we can find out what works and what doesn’t without having to laboriously gain that knowledge through hundreds of years of life-destroying mistakes.

For I am mindful of the plans I have made concerning you—declares the Lord—plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a hopeful future.
(Jeremiah 29:11)

This advice on picking a career isn’t intended to make God happy—it is to make us happy.  Ancient Jewish wisdom expounds some of the nuances and details for successful living.

He who finds a wife finds that which is good and receives favor from God.
(Proverbs 18:22)

This is one of several Biblical sources that when understood and absorbed would save young people years of unnecessary sadness in the challenging task of finding a mate.

Train a lad in the way he ought to go;
He will not swerve from it even in old age.
(Proverbs 22:6)

Ancient Jewish wisdom reveals the permanent principles of child rearing by expanding on this and other related verses.  If every child born was raised in accordance with these principles by parents who followed them too, we’d be living in a paradise.  Instead, a frightening percentage of children are born not knowing their fathers and being raised by a flickering screen.  Not surprisingly, we are not living in a paradise.

For happy and fulfilling lives as well as for a peaceful and productive society, this Book provides the principles.  This is why on the threshold of the launching of the nation of Israel in their own land, God warns Joshua thus:

Let not this Book of the Teaching cease from your lips, but recite it day and night, so that you may observe faithfully all that is written in it. Only then will you prosper in your undertakings and only then will you be successful.
(Joshua 1:8)

Of course there is always the alternative—live for a thousand years and you’ll pick up pretty much every principle presented in the Book.  Well, of course that is not possible, but the closer one gets to it, the better off one can be.  This is to say that someone who has reached old age has a far greater chance of knowing more about the permanent principles of how God ordered the world than someone who has lived for only twenty or thirty years. In a world filled with billions of people, there are certainly some curmudgeonly old fools, but young and foolish is a more likely pairing.

For that reason alone, the elderly deserve deference.

19 thoughts on “Young and Foolish, Old and Grumpy?”

  1. I enjoy what I’ve seen and heard of your teaching quite a lot. You should write something about plain old common sense according to the WORD. I like how in Nehemiah 8:8 when the Word was read they got some sense. From the beginning every step of creation has been set in order for us to easily see common sense, it’s only the sea of iniquity that has made a delusion out of God’s perfection. Shalom in the deepest sense of Love, Jesus Christ.

  2. Tzipi Kathleen Hartson

    I wonder… How our national civility might be impacted by our rising at the entrance into a room of an elderly person? At one time men arose, and lifted their hats to acknowledge the entrance of a woman. Might a return to such honors teach by example the principle of reverence?

    1. Absolutely, Tzipi! In religious schools that I’m familiar with, students still rise when a teacher comes in the room. I don’t think it’s a stretch to see that the students are more primed for learning after doing so.

  3. My Rabbi and Susan,
    Thank you for another great teaching. I’ve always regretted never had a man to man talk with my father. As a child I was taught that I should speak only when spoken to. I always enjoyed listening to my father and an uncle talking and solving all the worlds problems. Now, in my eighties I’m enjoying the life I’ve been given. My only regret is that I haven’t glorified my heavenly Father as much as I should have. I liked the Jeremiah reference. Susan I read the book on Eleanor Roosevelt and I have to agree with you that she was truly a great lady.

  4. One of my favorite movie quotes is from “It’s A Wonderful Life” when a neighbor on the porch says: “Why don’t you kiss her instead of talking her to death?”
    George Bailey: “You want me to kiss her, huh?”
    Neighbor: “Ah, youth is wasted on the wrong people.”

  5. In my interest of continuing to learn from your teaching, you just possibly answered a question I have had for a many a years. Why did God change our life’s from about a thousand years to about a hundred years. I’m pretty sure you just answered it in your message today.
    I do not believe they had books or scrolls back in the time before the flood. In the time of Mosses I believe is the time scrolls and books were being created. And of course you hit it right on. Torah and ancient Jewish wisdom. Even with the Bible, it still is not enough to keep a society from collapsing. It most certainly takes as you stated a thousand years of living or ancient Jewish wisdom.
    So I will go one step further to say without ancient Jewish wisdom all societies will collapse. I believe it was Gods intension for the Jewish people to teach and be the priest of the world. Satan has certainly accomplished his mission on earth by disrupting this from happing. To you Rabbi Lapin and all other Rabbi’s out there who are doing their part to bring back ancient Jewish wisdom, Thank You.

  6. About the time most of the people who survived the last big crisis have died out then the US opens itself up to another big crisis. That’s about 60 to 80 years after the last big crisis. Apparently, all that wisdom leaving us means something.

  7. Brian F. Tucker

    God in his wisdom created all living creatures so that we/they don’t give birth to adult clones. If we were born mature there would be no room for growth. No future to look forward to. No memories to look back apon.
    Thanks for all you do,

  8. So nice to read this spelled out. I have lived quite a few decades but do not look or act my chronological age and don’t get curmudgeonly very often! I can remember when “senior citizen” was introduced as a euphemism. We live in an ageist society where if one’s chronological age is known, people sit around watching for one to start falling apart! While agreeing completely with what you state, I would add that we all need to give attention to alternative medicine and anti-aging knowledge, so that we can continue to share our hard-won wisdom with the rest of society.

  9. Our world changes technologically at such a pace that this contributes I think to a lack of respect for elders who are seen as out of touch and not so interested in the latest/newest/greatest… With such a world, it is a challenge for our young to become settled, feel at ease and actually begin to look around and discover God’s creation including each other. Constant distraction is a problem…slow down, look around, shake your heads and discover God’s real gifts to us, as his creation.

  10. Our freight rate gets higher when we age and get closer to Lord, still we do not understand how to eliminate any discrimination. I feel sorry for people even you guys why you only serve Christians and Jewish community.Why not Muslims Budists Taoists or any other who believes in eternal Lord?

    I tried to place an ordee for your books but couldn’t manage.I presume that is because I live in a Muslim country.

    You should serve all humanity not just a small portion which at the end of the day discriminates and creates groups of “islamic terrorism” which I believe the Great Lord is punishing us alltogether.

    Please consider my thoughts and may God Bless all humans.

    1. Halul, we have sold many audio downloads and ebooks to people from Moslem countries. We do not ship physical resources to countries outside the United States and Canada because we simply could not do so at a price that was reasonable. That includes countries like Israel and Italy – no religious test is involved. Our teachings are fully available to “all humanity.”

  11. I talked about this on an interview today. The elders in the church I attend who study and walk in fellowship with God are youthful, upbeat and don’t have an unkind thing to say to young people.

    All age groups – meditate and absorb the Word of God! It is known to reduce youthful impulsivity and pride as well as elder cynicism and envy!

  12. From what I am hearing thus far in the comments, I am reminded of the proverb I learned on Mother’s knee: There is no fool like an old fool.’

    Still our seniors are indeed worthy of respect and I have always respected them. It was tough to bear when a young whippersnapper, maybe not even twenty-four years old, sat next to me in a group setting and pontificated: ‘We are here to put you in your graves.’ Seniors are a source of experience and wisdom, not mere ‘grave fodder.’ I rest my case: that there is no fool like a YOUNG fool raised in the conspicuous absence of Biblical principles. After seven decades we are wise enough to realize that we will not live forever, yet you and I are also old enough to know that so many of life’s punishments result from a haughty attitude and as far as life goes: garbage in, garbage out. So oft you get out of life what you put into it.

  13. We need to tell that to Joe Biden – the more older he is the more foolish he is….

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Yes, Ivan,
      This Thought Tool was certainly not to suggest that there are no old fools!

      1. Rabbi Lapin,
        Could it just be that the news minds don’t recognize the quiet goodly doers, and so the Hamans get photo, and Mordechai needs to be located by radar?

  14. An ex-neighbor of mine once said, “An unexpected and discouraging aspect of getting old is that younger people lack interest in you. As part of a more religious neighborhood I never get actual disrespect, but I still often sense that I’m being tolerated more than sought out.” Such a sensitive and accepting statement indicates that the fault lies with the listeners rather than the “senior.” As part of that same neighborhood, I have not sensed such Toleration yet… and dread the possibility.
    Being genuinely open to a person’s older-and-wiser perspective is one of a diminishing number of avenues to give to one younger. Letting somebody know they can still make a contribution can be better than giving them food or money.
    OK, hope that doesn’t seem too “on-my-soap-box.”

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