I have been involved in business for most of my life, and, thank G-d, I have had blessing. I think people have considered me to be a good person, and a charitable Jew, as well as a good businessman. However, as I have gotten older, and am now retired, I feel as though the world is leaving me behind. The feeling of being past my prime and no longer able to conduct business in the way I used to is causing me to question my value and getting me depressed. I’m wondering if there are any ideas you might be able to share with me to help me cope with this situation. Thank you, Rabbi, for any insights you may have.
I note that you describe yourself first as a good person and upstanding Jew, and then as a successful businessman — preceding your value as a human being before your value in business.
It is very good that you see it this way, which has a tremendous bearing on how you should define being “past your prime”. You see, insofar as you might not have the same business acumen that you once had, that stage in your life might have passed. However, since business is not the primary way you define yourself, by no means have you thereby passed your prime. On the contrary, since you clearly place prime value on your being a good person and a good Jew, you are very much before your prime!
The main thing is to always remember the purpose for which we come into this world and how the various things we do here should serve this purpose.
The soul is placed in this world through its connection with, and guidance of, the body. This is in order for the soul to elevate and perfect itself in ways which can’t be achieved in the spiritual realm. For a Jew, this is through studying Torah, performing the mitzvot and refining one’s character.
In order for the material body of this world to be able to perform the soul’s bidding, the body must be sustained in material, this-worldy ways. Obviously, for most people, this requires earning a living.
However, since the ultimate purpose of all bodily activities is to perfect the soul in the ways mentioned above, whether one is eating, drinking, sleeping or earning a living, one must maintain primary focus on the task of serving G-d throughout his lifetime. After all, this was the reason why the person was created, the reason why his soul was put into a body, and the reason why he must engage in these activities in the first place.
Thus, even when a Jew is in the prime of his working years he must still set aside daily time for learning Torah, for prayer and for mitzvah observance. For the working stage is only temporary, the purpose of which is to provide one with the resources necessary to prepare him and enable him to dedicate himself more and more to the reason for living. What’s more, G-d designed the world such that as one gets older and the various dynamics in life change, one naturally transitions toward that higher dimension of serving G-d.
Accordingly, after your successful business career, during which time you maintained proper focus on the real, relative values in life, thereby earning not only wealth, but also a good name for yourself and charitable deeds, you are now being liberated from that task. You can now further realize your potential and purpose by dedicating yourself more fully to being the good person and upstanding Jew that you’ve always valued being.
Therefore, you are not at all “over the hill”. On the contrary, you’re climbing the next summit, ascending even higher. For this reason you’re certainly not past your real prime. Since now you can give what really matters in life prime time, you’re in your prime! And nobody in the work world is leaving you behind. If anything, you’re leaving them behind. But even better, since you can be sure life will also cause them to follow the path you’re on, you are in a position to take the lead and help show them the way to better serve G-d.
Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman