Why Honor Elders?


Hi Rabbi, I wanted to know why we respect our elders. One reason I heard is because they’re “closer to Sinai.” But why is this a reason to merit special respect? Thanks.



  1. You ask a fascinating age-old question (sorry for the pun).

    The answer “that each generation is a link closer to Sinai” is found in several sources. We believe that the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai was the defining moment for the Jewish Nation. Therefore, each generation that is closer to that unique and special moment is a generation that is closer to the clarity and truth that Sinai represents.

    However, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch has a different explanation for why the Torah commands us to honor the elderly. He writes that honoring the elderly is honoring the importance and value of “experience.” A person who honors the elderly is honoring the natural human perception that matures through the repeated events of life and nature. One who honors elders is showing honor to wisdom and the understanding of life and nature obtained from God’s word. God’s word reveals the Divine source and purpose of life and nature. This lends significance to our life’s mission. We pay tribute to both: the human intellect, which matures through experience, and also to the spirit of God, which proceeds from the Torah. And wherever we find them, in the elderly and in the wise, we are to show homage by honoring them and rising for them.

    There is a well-known anecdote that vividly depicts the idea of being close to Sinai. Many versions exist, but here is the version I heard. Sir Benjamin Disraeli, then British Prime Minister, was once insulted in the House of Commons because he was Jewish. He responded, “While your ancestors were jumping up and down on the Rock of Gibraltar, my ancestors were receiving the holy Torah at Mount Sinai!”

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team