“And Moses was eighty years old, and Aaron was eighty three years old when they spoke to Pharaoh.” (Ex. 7:7) Why was it so important for the Torah to tell us the age of these two leaders? Yosef Caspi (c. XIII, France/Spain) says that it’s to teach us that they were advanced in age meaning that they have acquired wisdom. David Zvi Hoffman (c. XIX, Germany) understands that this comes to teach us that the heavy responsibility of redeeming the Israelite people was given by Hashem to the elders.

Let me suggest another possible reading. Sforno (c. XVI, Italy) correctly points out that “in those days eighty was an age which was considered what we call “old age.”  The lifespan in biblical times was 70 years old; reaching the age of 80 was considered a great feat: “The days of our years because of them are seventy years, and if with strength (gevurot), eighty years; but their pride is toil and pain, for it passes quickly and we fly away” (Psalms 90:10). But the rabbis read this verse in a subversive way; they say that by the age of 80 one acquires strength (Pirkei Avot 5:21).

In those times reaching to the age of eighty was an anomaly, but today for many of us, and for our parents and grandparents it is something normal, almost standard. And while many people see that reaching that age is the beginning of a decline the Torah and our rabbis tell us that is just the beginning of a new epoch, the beginning of our strength. Moses was only (!) 80 years old when he undertook the responsibility of freeing the Israelites from Egypt. Rabbi Akiva was only (!) 80 years old when he started to teach Torah (Sifrei Devarim 34:7). You are never too old is not a cliché, it could be a reality if you really believe it and if you have a family, community and society that encourage you to seek new beginnings!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Uri