Off the Pulpit

A Jewel Of Elul

In his youth the great scholar Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin was an indifferent student who decided to abandon his studies and go to a trade school. On the night he told his parents of his decision, the future Rabbi had a dream. He saw an angel holding a stack of beautiful books. “Whose books are those?” he asked. “They are yours,” answered the angel, “if you have the courage to write them.”

There is no end to beginning. Rabbi Akiba did not start to learn until he was 40, yet he became the most renowned of all the talmudic sages. Immanuel Kant, perhaps the greatest philosopher of the modern age, began writing the books on which his fame rests in his 50s. Grandma Moses began painting in her 70s; one of her canvases, “Fourth of July,” hangs in the White House

“To grow old”, wrote Martin Buber, “is a wonderful thing if we do not forget what it is to begin again.” We cannot do everything, but there are an infinite number of things we can still do.

At each moment in life, youth, middle age, old age, the world drops fruit at our feet. At the end of Wordsworth’s long autobiographical poem, “The Prelude,” he sums up: “what we have loved/Others will love, and we will teach them how.” At every age there is loving and teaching others to love. With those possibilities, how can one speak of ending?