50 years – a half a century – a Jubilee

Posted on November 1, 2019

Is it odd that I am excited to be turning 50?  It’s not that I’m unaware that I’m aging.  I color my hair monthly.  I have some pains in my knees and ankles.  My kids have been bigger than me for some years.  One of the preschoolers pointed to the myriad of dark spots on my arm and asked me, “What is that?”  Sigh, with a smile, I took a moment to reinforce the importance of sunscreen.  While I can’t go back and undo the sun damage of my reckless youth, I can look forward to my fifth decade of life.

Jewishly speaking, fifty is significant.  In the spring, we count off 49 days of the Omer starting with our liberation out of Egypt at Passover.  And then we reach 50 and we celebrate Shavuot, the revelation of Torah at Sinai.  I do feel that I am able to appreciate the wisdom of our Torah in ways that eluded me in previous decades simply because I have perspective.  I have learned much from my mistakes and successes, but am also humbled by my work and my children.  I feel anchored by the roots of our tradition but know how important it is to plant seeds for the next generation.  Torah and learning continue to be inspiring parts of my life and my rabbinate.

In Pirkei Avot (Chapter of our Father in the Mishneh), ben Tema said, “At fifty, one is able to give counsel.”   While my children don’t always appreciate my advice, with five decades behind me, I do feel that I have some hard earned insights to offer.   Looking around at others, I can appreciate that everyone has their own perspective and experience.  Certainly, there isn’t one size fits all.  Life is unpredictable and often there are multiple solutions or responses to any given challenge.   I find as I grow older that I am less judgmental because I recognize the complexity of life. 

Fifty in the Torah is also the Jubilee year.  This is when the land of Israel returns to its ancestor holdings, slaves are freed, and the land rests from sowing and plowing.  Jubilee, I like that word because, in truth, I do feel jubilant.  I’m not free from responsibility but I do feel a liberation of sorts because I am doing things that I like to do, my work is meaningful, and I feel blessed to have loving family, friends, and community.

And so fifty doesn’t sound scary to me. At the half century mark, I look behind at the stages of my life and marvel at how experiences have shaped me.  And I find myself looking forward to novel experiences, acquiring wisdom, growing, learning, and living.  Thank you for being part of my life journey.