Moses' last lap - Dvarim

How do we define old age? How do we concentrate when praying?

Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple ,

Rabbi Raymond Apple
Rabbi Raymond Apple

The final book of the Chumash sees Moshe Rabbenu summing up his career and giving the people a farewell message.

Baruch Hashem he has been blessed with many years and he approaches the end of his book of life with a clear mind, a perceptive eye and an energetic stride.

This echoes the verse from Psalm 71:9, Al tashlicheni l’et ziknah, "Do not cast me off in time of old age", which can be interpreted as, don’t let me feel too tired to give old age a value and quality.

How do we define old age? In Psalm 90 life expectancy is three score and ten or (if you’re strong) four score. These days 60, 70 or 80 are nothing special. Modern life expectancy has almost reached Moses’ 120 – hopefully "120 without falling apart".

The Levites retired at 50 (Num. 8:25-26) when they were no longer so strong and energetic. They were not lost to the community: the Torah says, "They shall serve with their brothers" (verse 26).

Maybe that means they supported their fellow Levites. Or perhaps they had less onerous duties than before. They could still lock the Temple gates, sing in the choir, teach the children, and supervise loading the wagons.

These days people are generally still strong and well long past the conventional 60 or 65 so there is no need for a set age for retirement. Older people can continue to work, even at a slower pace.

Society should find ways of retaining the expertise and experience of its older members.


The Chumash is an extended dialogue: God talks to man, man talks to God.

It is paralleled in the religious life: our prayers are like Jacob’s angels which went up to God and came back with His response (Gen. 28:12).

In theory this is what the synagogue facilitates, but some people find their attention wandering. The Rambam says, "Clear out all other thoughts and know that you are standing before the Divine Presence" (Hil’chot T’fillah 4:16).

All very well, but it is hard to banish distractions.

In a parable the Chafetz Chayyim said that a poor woman had a fruit stall in the market that made a bare living.

Hooligans knocked over the stall and the apples went flying.

A passer-by re-erected her stall and picked up some of the fruit, adding this advice: "When someone grabs your apples, snatch as many as you can and put them in another bag."

The Chafetz Chayyim applied this to prayer. He said, "When distractions attack you, don’t give in. Overcome them with thoughts that outweigh the distractions."

Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple AO RFD is Emeritus Rabbi of the Great Synagogue, Sydney. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem, where he publishes OzTorah, a weekly email list and website with Torah insights from an Australian perspective.