Jill and I will be hosting a few athletes for the upcoming JCC Maccabi Games. At last night’s planning meeting I saw a quote on the back of someone’s T-shirt that said,”You haven’t lived a perfect day unless you have done something for someone who will never be able to repay you.”
I looked up the quote later and found that it was attributed to two different people whose names I had never heard -Ruth Smeltzer and John Wooden. Regardless of who said it, the sentiment rings true and is consistent with the values and teachings of our tradition.
In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat D’varim (Deut 1:1-3:22), we begin reading the final words which Moses spoke to the Israelites before they crossed over the Jordan River into the Promised Land. Even at the age of 120, his eyes were undimmed, his strength undiminished and he really cared about his people. The fact that he cared as much as he did may actually have contributed to his longevity and vitality.
Harvard Medical School professor, George E. Vaillant, M.D., directed a study of adult development and published his findings in his book, Aging Well (2002). Among the many dimensions of successful aging, one is what he calls “generativity,” namely taking care of the next generation. He quotes John Kotre who defines it as investing “one’s substance in forms of life and work that will outlive the self.” In other words, there is an element of self-transcendence involved in giving back to others – whether it’s to community, society or the next generation, which significantly enhances one’s quality of life.
Generativity was a powerful force in Moses’ life. He could have retired and handed off his responsibilities to Joshua or he could have brooded over his failures, but he did neither of these things. Following his role as a liberator and law-giver, he turned his attention to the next generation and embarked on his new role as a teacher. In this way, he serves as an example of what it is to grow old while staying young.
I am enriched by the many opportunities I have to teach and to serve our congregation and our community. This is what keeps me feeling young and energized and it helps our community to thrive when we give back, as individual members or as a congregation. When we do something for someone who will never be able to repay us, we come to know the satisfaction of having “a perfect day.”
In the coming weeks as we read Moses’ final words in the book of D’varim, may we follow his example of “aging well” through generativity and experiencing many more perfect days.
R’ Moshe Tom