10/11 November 2023, 27 Cheshvan 5784

This week Rabbis Charley Baginsky and Josh Levy will be talking at  FPS about collaboration between Liberal Judaism and Reform Judaism. The focus on our Jewish life here in the UK is important for us even now with many of gazes turned further afield. I am thinking a great deal this week about our values of justice, joy, sensitive and engagement. And how we are informed by them in how we live and attempt to live. I was at the New Israel Fund gathering on Sunday evening attempting to reflect on what’s happening and still celebrate the human rights work the organisation supports. We do well to be proud of them as a congregation with the collaboration and complexity at the heart of their support for all in Israel. A life of longevity and well lived,  we are being reminded is a luxury. Not everyone has the opportunity to live into old age at peace.

Sarah our matriarch was 127 years old when she died. Torah repeats her life span:

And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years; [these were] the years of the life of Sarah

Rashi, the best of Torah commentators, who incidentally was an esteemed rabbi and a vintner well into his old age, insists that all of Sarah’s years were equally good. Her age only enriched her experiences. Sarah, we are told, negotiated a lot of new adventures in her advanced years.

  • She moved home with Abraham with “all their possessions that they had acquired, ….and they went to go to the land of Canaan.”
  • She moved others to draw close to God; as Torah explains, she took to Canaan “the souls they made in Haran.” Indeed, she gave her name to all future proselytes: those who chose and choose Judaism take the name ben/bat Avraham v’Sarah. .
  • She even had a baby and she was so surprised that she called him Yitzchak, meaning laughter, after she laughed on discovering this late gift.

I’m sure Sarah would have been the first to say that her longevity was a blessing. Barbra Streisand released her memoirs this week at the age of 80. We see the preciousness of life in greater focus right now. And perhaps Sarah’s life and death is a reminder of this-to try for a life well lived. We recently began a new group at FPS, Living with Ageing, to share experiences with fellow travellers.

We live in new times and the wisdom of our elders shines brightly and so often offer such examples of courage and resilience, grace and capacity. Yehuda ben Teima of the Mishnah 200 C.E got a lot right when he wrote about old age…at sixty seniority; at seventy fullness of years; at eighty spiritual strength….And onwards.

Living to old age in safety and security has never felt more of a blessing than it does at this moment. May it be so for us. May we take the examples around us to inspire, inform and instruct our living.

Shabbat Shalom,