Calm and Seasoned (Behaalotcha)
Old age has a great sense of calm and freedom. When the passions have relaxed their hold and have escaped, not from one master, but from many. -Plato
By modern standards, the Levites who served in the Tabernacle, and later, in the Temple in Jerusalem, had an early retirement.
The verses declare:
“This is the rule for the Levites. From twenty-five years of age up they shall participate in the work force in the service of the Tent of Meeting; but at the age of fifty they shall retire from the work force and shall serve no more. They may assist their brother Levites at the Tent of Meeting by standing guard, but they shall perform no labor.”
The Chidushei HaRim on Numbers 8:25 gets into more detail as to what this post-retirement life looked like for the over-fifty Levite. He says that these older Levites were assigned the duty of “closing the gates.” However, there is a much deeper significance to the term “closing the gates” than merely the physical shutting of some aperture.
He starts off by noting that the older Levites were charged with closing the gates as opposed to the converse task of opening the gates. He then compares the term “gates” to the same term that’s used in Solomon’s Song of Songs. However, the deeper meaning in that context is not “gates” but rather “excitement.” The Chidushei HaRim explains that while excitement is an important, if not vital emotion, there are times that it needs to be reigned in. It is much more the domain of the young to exhibit indiscriminate passion and exuberance. However, it can often be misguided, misplaced, disproportionate or otherwise tainted.
The older Levite, who has more life’s experience and perspective will be able to better discern when, and how much, exuberance has its place. The Chidushei HaRim continues that it is easy for negative, impure aspects to attach themselves to otherwise good and proper excitement. While after the age of fifty, the Levite may not have had to be involved in the physical or otherwise arduous role the Levites had in the Tabernacle and Temple, they still had an important part to play. They had a supervisory, mentoring, guiding role. Part of it is to “close the gates,” meaning, to rein in and properly direct the energies and enthusiasm of the younger, less experienced Levites.
May we always be able to combine the energy of youth with the insights of age.
To the memory of famed Israeli actor, Rabbi Uri Zohar z”l.