Rabbi Neil Schuman

Rising to the Occasion
King Solomon exhorts us to strive for achievement both in our youth and in our old age. “In the morning sow your seed, and in the evening don’t withhold your hand; for you do not know which shall prosper, this or that, or whether they both shall be good.” (Ecclesiastes 11:6)
The renowned sage, the Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaCohen Kagan lived a long time, and in his sixties, his wife passed away. Concerned for his welfare, his community pressured him to remarry. His new wife bore him children that were younger than his grandchildren. Yet in the aftermath of the Holocaust, his only surviving descendants were from his second wife.
Solomon’s message, “In the evening, don’t withhold your hand; for you do not know which shall prosper” rings very true.
Adam and Eve also had children 130 years after their first brood. It seems as though Adam and Eve were fulfilling this dictum as well, yet I believe there was another reason.
When the first man and woman were created, God blessed them saying: “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that crawls upon the earth.”
They quickly got down to work, bearing two sons. The elder, Cain, became a farmer, and Abel became a shepherd.
It’s tragic when Cain kills Abel, but Cain nonetheless pursues his parents’ directive. He marries and builds a city. He fathers children, living to see five more generations. His descendants become musicians, blacksmiths, farmers, and shepherds.
It’s at this point, 130 years after the births of their first children, that Adam and Eve have another child, Seth. What was their impetus?- a second murder.
“And Lamech said unto his wives: Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech; for I have slain a man through wounding, and a young man through bruising” (Genesis 4:23)
In this instance, the rabbis interpret Lamech’s actions to be unintentional manslaughter. Nonetheless, this pitiful loss of life through their great-grandchild’s hand shakes Adam and Eve to the core. They decide that they need to be proactive, not only in creating life but in managing and guiding their descendants’ lives, as well.
“And Adam knew his wife again; and she bore a son, and called his name Seth: ‘for God has granted me another seed instead of Abel; for Cain slew him.’
And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enosh; then people started calling in the name of G-d.” (Genesis 4:25-26)
Adam and Eve have a child, Seth, to replace their beloved Abel, and then one generation later, spirituality starts to be taught alongside craftsmanship. Adam and Eve realize that it’s not enough to have children, they need to make sure that children are going along the right path. Even if it means coming out of retirement, they want to play an active role in the building and progress of the world.
The musical band, The Who, once proclaimed, “Hope I die before I get old,” (My Generation) yet a few years ago they celebrated their fiftieth year on tour. We know it’s not just they who are performing in their seventies. Likewise, our last two presidents have been septuagenarians and the members of Congress are of the oldest average age ever. While there could be numerous explanations for this, the simple fact is that instead of taking an easy path, these people are using their years of experience productively.
I encourage our long-term members to pick up roles of leadership in our own community. Sure, you can leave the social networking to the youngins, but your experience and knowledge of dealing with people, Jewish tradition, finances, and the law are invaluable.
In the first few generations of humanity, when things were looking bleak, Adam and Eve aroused their spirit with a resolve to set things right.
I ask you, if they were alive today, would they sit back and let things continue on their own course, or would they get up and start making a difference? If you think Adam and Eve would marshal themselves, then you who are their descendants, assess your talents “and in the evening don’t withhold your hand”, for you can make a difference.