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You must rise in the presence of an elderly person. You shall show honor to a sage (19:32).
The Talmud (Kiddushin 32a) brings two explanations of these sentences. According to the first view, the two halves of this verse complement each other. That means that it is a single commandment to rise and honor a sage who is both elderly and righteous. The second interpretation - which is followed by the Halacha - views the two sentences as two separate commandments: to rise and honor anyone over the age of seventy (even if he is not learned), and to rise and honor a sage, even if he is young.
But however learned a person may be in his youth, his purpose is to become greater in learning, and in positive influence as his personality and scholarship matures. What is gained by having to give him such honor at the still early stage of his life?
Rabbi Mattisyahu Salomon of Lakewood, New Jersey (under whom I had the great privilege of studying in my late teens) recently commented on the vociferous refrains of 'Jerusalem belongs to us - the Jewish People'. That is not so. It should be the other way round - it is that the 'Jewish People belong to Jerusalem'.
For Jerusalem is the place where the Divine Presence is most intense - and the Rambam has ruled that it is so even to this day. Thus, one does not walk on the Temple Mount in a state of ritual impurity (which today includes everybody). It is the task of each and every Jew to stake his claim in Jerusalem, and what Jerusalem traditionally stands for - the 'place in which G-d has chosen to establish His Name'. He does that by behaving in such a way that he is in harmony with what Jerusalem stands for... studying Torah and living within the Revealed Framework from the Creator.
The same may be said to apply to standing up for a learned person - however young. It is not the person who is being stood up for. It is what the person stands for. As a learned sage, he possesses access and insights within the Revealed Framework from the Creator. That is what one venerates, and identifies with, by standing...
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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Also by Jacob Solomon:
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