A Goodly Old Age
Rabbi Reuven Mann
The story of our first Patriarch, Avraham Avinu, comes to a close in Parshat Chaye Sara; which recounts his death. We are told, that he experienced “a goodly old age”, in which he was “old and Saveah” (satisfied). Many people, cannot lay claim to such an attainment.
The advent of medical progress and innovative treatments, has brought an increase in the life span of the individual. People live longer now–not because they are any healthier–but due to the fact, that the medical sciences are better equipped to repair the damages, that are wrought by unhealthy living practices. But additional years per se, do not necessarily constitute the blessing of “a goodly old age”; which according to the Torah, is a blessing one should aim for.
People have become more cognizant of the opportunity for a longer life, and have made some efforts to prepare for it. Most people now, look forward to being able to retire; and enjoy their “golden years”, without having to work. These people, understand the necessity for advance preparation. Years before they are ready to cease working, they must make the proper financial arrangements; which over the course of time, will yield the resources they will need when the time comes.
But a solid financial situation–while essential–is not the entire story. More important than the money at your disposal, is the condition of your health, from a physical and emotional perspective. If one is constantly in pain, and consumes his time with Doctors visits, he will not be really enjoying his situation.
Therefore, just as one must anticipate and prepare for his economic needs, so too must he take measures, to ensure that he is in the most optimum physical and mental state; which would enable him to make the most out of his old age.
The truth is, that one should always live in a healthy manner, even when young. But generally, the youthful person naturally feels good, and doesn’t regard himself as needing to tend to his health. However, many of the illnesses one has to cope with–only when older–have been a long time in the making; albeit under the radar. The key is, to take preventive measures, or to deal with potential dangers, before they are full blown.
Therefore, it is vital for every individual to have his personal health “profile”; which lists the particulars of his own bodily constitution. A full physical checkup will discover problems, which if left untreated, can develop into major problems.
Those who are concerned about enjoying their advanced years, should begin improving their health, at least by the time they reach middle age.(Although, even if one didn’t do so then, and is now older, it is not too late to embark on healthy living.)
The main factors of healthy living are nutrition and exercise. One must review his approach to food, and study his eating habits. When young, we don’t give this matter much thought, and allow our natural inclinations to dictate what type of meals we consume. But the unexamined diet, could be harming us, or depriving ourselves of needed nutrients; thus, paving the way for problems, that will only blossom in the future.
The importance of nutrition, and of guarding one’s health in general, has been strenuously enunciated and advocated by the Rambam. He maintains, that one cannot be a true servant of Hashem, if one is not in an optimum physical and emotional condition. One who neglects his health, diminishes the energy that is necessary to learn Torah and perform Maasim Tovim (good deeds).
Therefore, one must be careful about his eating habits. More important, than choosing the right foods and avoiding the harmful ones, is the danger of eating excessively. Rambam–who was one of the greatest physicians of all time–believed that most ailments a person suffers, is due to overeating. A wise person will take measures to bring his weight under control. This is difficult and painful, but pays dividends on many levels.
Clearly, our great teacher, was ahead of his time; and anticipated modern medical discoveries, in his understanding of illness. One should avoid the risk factors, such as: smoking, drinking in excess and avoidable emotional distress. Rambam also mentions the benefit of exercise; which is confirmed by modern physicians. Appropriate exercise, provides great physical and emotional advantages; and can help to slow down the aging process. Of course, before embarking on an exercise program, one should consult with his doctor.
A goodly old age, must include that elusive quality of Sippuk HaNefesh (satisfaction of the soul). One will not be happy, merely because he doesn’t have to work. In fact, extreme idleness can produce severe boredom and depression. Happiness, requires activities which are enjoyable; and give one a sense of accomplishment and worthiness. One who can cultivate a love of learning is very fortunate. Such a person, can study by himself and with friends, attend classes and even do some teaching. Mental stimulation, is perhaps the most gratifying and pleasurable sensation one can experience.
In the Golden years one can live a very meaningful life. He should seek to remain vigorous, active and engaged. The more he brings with him to this period of his life–which is chocked with opportunities–the more he will come close to genuine happiness and fulfillment. May we merit to achieve it.