And Ya’akov dwelled in the land of his father’s sojourning, in the land
of Canaan. (Bereishis 34:1)
He had been 108 years old at the time, and had already gone through in
one lifetime what others don’t go through in many lifetimes. If any one had
the right to stop and retire, it had been Ya’akov Avinu. At least, that is
we might have thought. Apparently, as Rashi points out, God thought
Ya’akov wished to live in tranquility, but the trouble of Yosef jumped
upon him. Righteous people seek to dwell in tranquility, but The Holy
One, Blessed is He, said, “What is prepared for them in the World-to-
Come is not enough for righteous people, that they seek tranquility in
this world? (Rashi, Bereishis 37:2)
It is a lesson for us all, even if we do not consider ourselves righteous,
especially like Ya’akov Avinu. However, all of us do want to go to the
World-to-Come, and get the best portion possible. At the same time,
in this world is very attractive, and many people save for it, and take it
when it comes. Are they making a mistake?
Well, it all depends upon what you call “retirement,” doesn’t it? Some
people retire from the business world, and work on the most important
of their lives: themselves. In their early years, day-to-day concerns and
responsibilities fought for their attention, leaving them little to time
their spiritual side. Having merited to reach their “later days,” and
knowing that soon, they will have to stand before God and justify their
existence, they use the “extra” time to further grow spiritually.
Others retire from life altogether. It’s not that they sit around and do
nothing. They do plenty, but unfortunately, not much of it, as fun and
as it may be, adequately prepares them for life in the next world.
And why should it, they argue, if they don’t believe in the World-to-Come,
and figure that all we get is what we have in this world, which seems to
at least physically, with each passing day.
But, imagine getting to Heaven and being greeted by an angel, who says,
“Can I help you please?”
Surprised that the angel does not know you, you mention your name,
hoping for instant recognition. However, you become nervous, when you
see the angel go up and down his list, flipping page after page, looking
your name without success. Finally he says,
“Oh, right … Mr. So-and-so … Ah, well, your portion is, ah … just follow
this angel and he will show you it do you. Next!”
The Maitre d of Heaven calls out, as you move on, uncertain of and
about what to expect.
In the wink of an eye, you find your “place,” and quite frankly, it is not
what you expected or hoped for. Turning to the angel to complain, but
you can even open your mouth, he says, somewhat sympathetically,
“Sorry, but this is all you invested in your portion in the World-to-Come.
Here, you get exactly what you paid for there, spiritually-speaking,
throughout the course of your many lifetimes.”
“But … but …” you stammer.
However, in another wink of an eye, the angel is gone, and you suddenly
realize what life had always really been about, and wish you could go
back and make amends. But that’s not the way it works, not anymore.
Old age works the same way. Many assume that the real commodity of a
golden old age is wealth. With wealth, you can live in fancy houses filled
with creature comforts that make aging more amenable, pay for assistance
when doing simple tasks becomes too difficult and tiring, and take plenty
trips to see the world to keep yourself occupied. They rarely think about
being able to grow, even, and really, especially, at that opportune time of
So many people, especially in the secular world, just show up, spiritually-
speaking, at old age, and expect it to just work. They didn’t realize that
when they were a teenager, and then a young adult, and after that,
that they were supposed to be preparing for their later years. For,
those are the times, in the youthful years, when one is able to
for growth, “mechanisms” that will allow them to make the most of
life, even as their bodies fail to do so anymore.
In the Torah world, we know that this world is only a corridor to the next
one. Yes, we get very distracted and succumb to temptation far too often,
but still, we do teshuva, and want, ultimately, to leave this world having
used every possible moment to prepare ourselves for the World-to-Come, to
which we look forward more than anything else, even if we can’t relate to
In other words, according to Torah, spiritual growth is where it is at.
Whatever we do, whatever we learn, it is to this end. One more mitzvah,
one more portion in the World-to-Come. One more blessing, one more step
in the direction of holiness, one more step closer to God—forever—in the
World-to-Come. We know that how we deal any number of daily tests directly
impacts our view from the top.
At least, that is the way it is supposed to be, and should be, if the Torah
education is on the money. If a child has been raised with a true Torah
then by the time he grows through all of the stages of life, he will
just have become better equipped to extract from each moment of life what
it has to offer in terms of personal completion. When he finally reaches
golden age of life, he will be prepared; all of the intellectual and
mechanisms that he will need to grow the rest of his life will already be
place, waiting for him, so-to-speak.
Talking to a friend of mine, who is also a psychiatrist, I learned just how
prominent depression is amongst the elderly. And, though he is someone
who is not quick to prescribe medication to treat depression, he finds, for
the most part, that when it comes to the elderly, he has little choice but
to focus on their comfort, sensing little else than can be done to help
that vulnerable stage of their lives. Teaching them how to spiritually grow
through the situation is not an option for many of them.
Yet, we see many elderly people who never get depressed, and even if
they do, from time-to-time, they work it through, usually on their own, and
rarely with the help of medication. They’re alive, and that reason enough
be happy, they say, even if they are not financially well-off, and they
travel the world, etc.
Why? Because, they know how to grow spiritually, even at that age.
Having done it all of their lives, retirement from the business world,
not mean retirement from life. Rather, they welcomed the opportunity to not
be so busy anymore, to not be at the center of attention, having to be
to anyone who called. All of that was exciting, at the time, but it was
also a distraction away from the main issues of life.
When we are young, life is so fast-paced. We are confronted by so many
challenging situations that, often, overcome us more than we overcome
them. Later, after the fact, we often find ourselves saying, “Well, I
handle that well …” or, “I shouldn’t have really said that … or done that
Etc. If we are spiritually-attuned, we will have lived, and learned, and
maybe, just maybe, acted better the next day.
If that is our attitude today, while we’re still young and able to build
intellectual and emotionally, not just physically and financially, then
when we get to that wonderful point in life when what matters to us most is
our mind and our emotions, we will be ready. We will retire from the
world of physical survival and raising families, b”H, but unretire from
spiritually-growing at leaps-and-bounds, just when it means the most to do
For, what people fail to realize, or they just forget, is that an entire
can, and often does, come down to one’s final moments of consciousness.
It’s as if God says at that very last moment, “Okay, after all those years,
what have you become? What do you believe?” The answer we give will
make all the difference in this world, and the next one.
And, how we live out the final years of our lives will make a world of
difference to the answer. Perhaps, Ya’akov Avinu, after all he had gone
through and accomplished, had thought he had his answer already. However,
it turns out, as far as God was concerned, he could be even greater,
grow even more, become even better prepared for the next world. Ya’akov
had gone gold after all his years. He was about to go platinum from hereon
Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.