Respecting the Elderly

In Parshat Kedoshim, we are presented with many mitzvot. One mitzvah that especially stands out is Vayikra 19:32: "In the presence of the elderly (seiva) you shall rise and you shall respect the elder (zaken); you shall have fear of your God, I am your God".

In this pasuk, God is clearly putting respecting the elderly in the same category as fearing God. Why is this necessary?

We learn from the Gemara in Kiddushin 33a: It may have been thought that one may close one's eyes and therefore exempt himself from the obligation of rising before the elderly. Therefore the Torah teaches: "Fear your God". You may try to fool yourself, but you can't fool God.

The buses in Israel actually have signs that say "mipnei seiva takum", "in the presence of the elderly you shall rise" in order to remind people that out of respect for the elderly person as well as for God we must give our seats up for an elderly person who doesn't have a place to sit.

Why is respecting the elderly such an important mitzvah? In the Gemara in Kiddushin 33a, Isi Ben Yehudah teaches that we must rise (give respect) to all elderly people. Rabbi Yochanan explains that it is because "they have experienced so much".

Midrash Tanchuma, Behaalotcha 11 teaches that "the way to give the elderly honor would be not to stand in their place, not to hide their things, not to interrupt their words".

In Jerusalem, there are many senior residences and nursing homes as well as day centers which provide programs for senior citizens and care for the elderly with respect and dignity. However, due to their limited budgets, these facilities are not able to provide continuous programming throughout the day and many do not provide the seniors with opportunities to study Torah. Thanks to your support of Torat Reva Yerushalayim I have been able to bring Torah study classes to these facilities on a weekly basis at no charge.

After spending time studying Torah with individuals of all ages and backgrounds, I now understand Yosi Bar Yehudah Kfar HaBavli's comments in Pirkei Avot (The Ethics of Our Fathers) 4:26: "One who learns Torah from the young is likened to one who eats unique grapes or drinks unfermented wine. But one who learns Torah from the elderly is likened to one who eats ripe grapes or drinks aged wine".