Lech Lecha 5770 Lifelong Learning

Lifelong Learning   We are first introduced to Abraham at the conclusion of the book of Noach.  We are told very little about him.  It is striking, in fact, that when we are introduced to Noah he is called an “ish tsadik”, a righteous man. But when we are introduced to Avraham there is no description at all. In fact, the first specific thing that we are told about Abraham is his age — that he is 75 years old when he leaves his father’s house for the Land of Canaan.  That seems rather old to be setting out to begin a new life!   Being old, it seems to me, is an issue of context, point of view and quality of spirit. Of context — a professional athlete is considered old by the time he is thirty five and ancient by the time he is forty.  Yet a person elected president of the United States in his or her mid forties is considered quite young.  Of point of view — My best friend’s from childhood’s mother died a few years ago. She was 95 and in poor health for a number of years.  I called my mother, who was 85 at the time, to break the news to her.              “Mom,” I said, “I have some sad news.  Mrs. Newman died.”             “Oh my G-d, what happened?”  my mother exclaimed with shock and dismay.             “Mom, she got old,” I said. “She was 95 years old, you know.”             My mother paused. “Well,” she replied, “They say that once you get over 90,         anything could happen to you.”             You see, to my 85 year old mother, “over 90” was what was old.   But becoming old is also a matter of spirit.  The story is told in the Talmud of one Rabbi Yehuda. One day, as he sat and studied, a pagan walked by his home and commented, “This man is either drunk or he has discovered a great treasure, because his face is so radiant.”             Rabbi Yehuda responded, “I never drink except when I recite the Kiddush, and I have not found a great treasure. I am a poor man.”             “Why then does your face shine with such radiance?” the pagan said. “Because I study all the time. My face is aglow with the pleasure of learning.”             Lifelong learning may be the fountain of youth.  Here are three keys to success in learning:   1)      Make learning a priority – The sage Hillel says, “Do not say, “When I have time I will study, for perhaps you will never have the time.”  The sages advocated setting aside a fixed time for study. They knew that if you did not, you would find other ways to fill that time. 2)      Make educating yourself a fun, social experience. Learning in isolation can lead to misunderstanding what you are studying. Studying with a group can correct errors, and open your mind to different ideas.  3)      Actively involve yourself in the learning process.  "Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I'll understand," goes a Chinese proverb.               Perhaps, in retrospect, telling us Abraham's age tells us a great deal about him.  Despite their chronological age, he and Sarah were open to new experiences, to learning about new things, new places.  Their faith in G-d, as well as the community that they gathered around them, also protected them from the despair that often accompanies the infirmities of old age.  That speaks to the mission of our congregation — to provide a connection to G-d, to create community and to foster lifelong learning.    Shabbat Shalom