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You must rise in the presence of an elderly person. You shall show honor to a sage. And you shall fear G-d… (19:32).
The Talmud (Kiddushin 32a) brings two explanations of these sentences. According to the first view, the two halves of this verse complement each other. That means that it is a single commandment to rise and honor a sage who is both elderly and righteous. The second interpretation - which is followed by the Halacha - views the two sentences as two separate commandments: to rise and honor anyone over the age of seventy (even if he is not learned), and to rise and honor a sage, even if he is young.
Giving your seat in the overcrowded bus to an elderly person (especially after a tough day at work) puts a person's character to the test. You can argue that the older person has plenty of other time to travel. He should not be competing with hard-working wage-earners during the rush hour. You can also pretend you didn't see the person. That, as Rashi explains, is its connection with; 'You shall fear G-d'. G-d is watching you: He will take stock and reward you in due course. He will catch up with you if indeed pretending to ignore the elderly person.
The connection between respecting the elderly and the learned, and fearing G-d might also be explained in different terms. Typically, the person recognized as a sage is already in his mature years. As he goes through the later years and his learning and sagacity increases, his standing as a gadal batorah (Torah giant) - with all its implications - rises and his words are quoted with greater frequency and reverence by those seeking to conduct their life according to Torah standards. Indeed, many such people flourish in that period of their life: 'they shall continue to produce fruit in their old age' (Psalms 92:15).
But in extreme old age, some (though not all) sages are no long what they were. They travel and mix in society less; they are further away from people's realities. They depend on younger people to keep them informed, and some of those have agendas of their own - attempting to manipulate Torah sages who no longer have the energy to handle realities at first hand. In some cases that can enable the socio-religious climber rather that sincerely Torah-motivated to misinform and 'persuade' aged gedolim to agree to impose various chumrot unknown in previous generations and can do much to bring Torah traditions into disrepute and ridicule in wider society.
That is the connection with: 'You shall fear G-d'. Respect the elderly, show honor to the sage, but not to the extent of taking advantage of the very elderly sage by deceiving him to participate in your less-that-wholesome socio-religious 'agendas'. For 'I am G-d'(19:32) - who know your true motives…
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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