Ha’azinu Deuteronomy 32:1-52
The composer of Psalm 71 is unknown, but if we compare it with this week’s Torah portion, we may surmise that if this Psalm wasn’t written by Moshe, it certainly could be a glimpse into his heart and mind as he comes to the end of his days. One sentiment is repeated twice in this Psalm, and whenever something is repeated, it should catch our attention.
Psalm 71:9 and verses 18-19 plead: "Don't reject me when I grow old; when my strength fails, don't abandon me. … So now that I'm old, and my hair is gray, don't abandon me, G-d, till I have proclaimed your strength to the next generation, your power to all who will come, your righteousness too, G-d, which reaches to the heights. G-d, you have done great things; who is there like you?" In the context of these verses, there are two reasons why the Psalmist beseeches HaShem not to forsake him. First, he faces dangerous, deadly enemies who are waiting to see any sign of weakness in order to attack (verses 10-13). His second fear is that he will die before having the chance to pass on what he has learned about HaShem to the next generation (verse 18). Whether we find ourselves as seasoned veterans of life, or we are just starting out on this grand adventure, these concerns are valid and relevant for today.
Let’s face it: Each and every one of us is growing older, and should Messiah tarry, we will have to deal with the consequent changes in life. As this Psalm portrays, the battles fought and enemies faced when growing old are both seen and unseen. Some elderly people, or even those dealing with life-altering illness and disability, feel like their usefulness for the Kingdom of HaShem is over, and they’re just sitting on the proverbial shelf, waiting to pass from this life. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Here’s what HaShem says: ""Listen to me, house of Ya'akov, all who remain of the house of Isra'el: I have borne you from birth, carried you since the womb. Till your old age I will be the same- I will carry you until your hair is white. I have made you, and I will bear you; yes, I will carry and save you." (Isaiah 46:3-4) Psalm 71 contains much more than lament. It shows us how to deal with tough times.
It is in the lowest of circumstances when we feel like HaShem has left us. We know this isn’t true, but how do we overcome those feelings shouting and screaming at us? First, the psalmist teaches us by example to look back on our own lives and remember HaShem’s mighty deeds on our behalf (verses 5-8). This, in turn, will inevitably lead to offering praise (verses 14-17, 22-24). Next, it is crucial that we find someone to tell what HaShem has done in our lives. This is perhaps the most powerful thing we can do, because reaching out to others brings our own problems into proper perspective, and it reminds us that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Each of us has a lot of wisdom to share, and this is how our faith is perpetuated. In fact, verse 19 of this Psalm in the Hebrew, says something like: "And also when I am old and gray headed, G-d, don’t abandon me, until I declare to Your seed, to the generation, to all that will come, Your power."
Who is G-d’s seed but fellow believers (1 John 3:9)? Finally, the composer of Psalm 71 reminds us that, when all is said and done, we have the ultimate comfort and hope of the resurrection from the dead (verses 20:21). No matter whether we’re dealing with old age, illness, or feeling down in the dumps, we have no time to lose bemoaning our hardships overmuch. We still have work to do. As it is written: "As long as it is day, we must keep doing the work of the One who sent me; the night is coming, when no one can work." (John 9:4) Let us fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith (2 Timothy 4:7).