Wednesday, March 6, 2019

On Reaching Three Scores and Ten


I reached a biblical milestone of life today, three score years and ten. Seventy. 

Did you ever wonder how we developed the idea that 70 was a full lifetime? Here’s one explanation, as drilled into me during my formative years attending a Jewish day school. 

Genesis V states Adam died when he was 930 years old. He was, according to Jewish exegesis known as midrash,  supposed to live a full 1,000 years. Here’s what the sages say happened:

God previewed to Adam all of his future descendants. Adam was saddened to see one baby die almost at birth. In a gesture of compassion Adam donated 70 of his years to that newborn, leaving his own lifetime at 930. 

Turns out that newborn’s fate was to grow up to be King David, who lived to be 70. A perfect fit. 

But David was a wily fellow. You don’t get to be a king— 40 years as monarch, seven in Hebron, 33 in Jerusalem— without some street smarts. He knew the lore about his lifespan. He wanted more. So, according to the rabbis, David devised a plan to thwart the Angel of Death. He reasoned that as long as he was studying Torah death could not overtake him. He studied day and night. 

Not to be denied from fulfilling his mission the Angel of Death had his own tricks. He caused David to be distracted from learning by simulating a voice calling him. When David got up from his desk the Angel of Death tripped him into a fatal fall. 

I am not making this fairy tale up. This is what they taught early elementary school students at Yeshiva Rambam in mid-1950s Brooklyn. 

As I write this a thought just entered my mind. Could this fable about a fatal fall be the reason elderly people fear falling, why a fall often precedes the end of life for so many seniors?  How serendipitous that Jane Brody, the health columnist of The New York Times, recently wrote about ways to minimize falls. Her article noted that in this country an elderly person dies as a result of a fall every 19 minutes (https://nyti.ms/2NsluE9). 

Half a lifetime ago, on the morning of my 35th birthday, I woke up with a sharp pain in my hip. A pain of unknown origin. I had not recently bumped it. I had not strained it playing ball or exercising. It just hurt. A message from within that my structure was finite. 

The pain lasted perhaps ten minutes. Maybe less. Never returned. As I have never angsted over advancing age I did not ascribe the pain to anything more than coincidence. 

I would be fooling no one if I said I didn’t think of my mortality. I don’t contemplate achievements I might leave unfulfilled. Rather, I project out years—how old would I be when each grandchild celebrates their bar or bat mitzvah. How old until they graduate college, get their first job, marry. Will I live to be a great grandfather?  

Lest you come away from this truth-telling wondering about my frailty, in mind and/or body, please worry not. I am for the most part sound in both respects (even if some family members and friends complain I am a hypochondriac). 

Blogging assumes some obligation to reveal inner thoughts, so I let you in on my political leanings, some family history and days to come. Nothing more. No birthday surprise today. Till next time … 

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