Age – Progression
As a person grows older, he passes through a series of stages each of which offers its own challenges, opportunities, and rewards. However, the change from one stage to the next is generally so gradual that he is barely aware of the transition. This is all the more reason for a person to make an effort to recognize where he is holding at each point in his life. To achieve a meaningful and fulfilled life, especially after he has reached old age, he should develop insight into what he can expect and what is expected of him in the stage he is in.
One of the ways a person can recognize that he has reached old age is the degree of whiteness in his hair. That is why the word שֵׂיבָה, old age, may also be translated as white hair. That phenomenon gives Mishlei the opportunity to identify שֵׂיבָה as a crown of splendor that is characteristic of old age.
When a person reaches old age, he will find that people tend to show him respect and consideration. Besides being a mitzvah, this is in recognition of the wisdom that the older person has acquired as a result of long experience. Of course, the older person needs to appreciate that he has inevitably become a role model for younger people and that the way he conducts himself can have a great impact on young lives.
For these reasons Mishlei is telling us in this segment that the older person needs to earn his crown of splendor by living a righteous life. This is especially important in terms of the refined and gentle middos that characterize a person of wisdom.
לא = עֲטֶרֶת תִּפְאֶרֶת שֵׂיבָה בְּדֶרֶךְ צְדָקָה תִּמָּצֵא
(31) The white hair of old age is a crown of splendor.
It will be found in the path of righteousness.
This proverb associates a man of old age with the image of a crown of splendor that is symbolized by his white hair. But it adds the proviso that such a crown must be earned by following the way of righteousness (צְדָקָה). Besides contributing to the symbolic crown of splendor, a person who has lived a long life can look back on his extended lifetime as a reward for the righteousness of his life.
(31) A crown of splendor — עֲטֶרֶת תִּפְאֶרֶת
is the white hair of old age — שֵׂיבָה
In the path of righteousness — בְּדֶרֶךְ צְדָקָה
it will be found — תִּמָּצֵא
(1) The crown of old age is more likely to be found among those who have lived righteous lives. A righteous person can be expected to use his additional years to expand his wisdom and do mitzvos. (רש”י, רלב”ג)
(2) The word צְדָקָה can also be translated as charity. This is significant because the mitzvah of giving צְדָקָה is traditionally rewarded with a long life. (רבינו יונה)
(3) On the other hand a person should view his old age as a charitable gift from Hashem (צְדָקָה), one which cannot be earned through doing mitzvos. (אלשיך)
(4) People are obliged to respect an older person because his old age is a sign that he has fulfilled his mission in life. (מלבי”ם)
(5) A person should always avoid bad middos. But crude behavior is especially repugnant when practiced by older people. (מאירי)
(6) White hair is a visible testament to the righteousness which led to the older person’s long life and that is why it is crown of splendor. (אבן יחייא)
NOTE: For a PDF copy of this segment, please click on the blue title below.
This will enable you to print out the entire text of the article.