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December 28, 2014 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Vayechi

In this last Torah portion of Genesis, Jacob blesses Joseph’s two sons.  Rashbam, interpreting 48:8 (“Israel beheld Joseph’s sons”) writes that Jacob’s sight was no longer good enough to distinguish the two sons.  This equation of age and blindness is not unique to Jacob; Isaac also seems to have eyesight problems.

In my experience, blindness and related issues aren’t such a common old-age problem today; among today’s eighty and ninetysomethings (such as my parents and their friends) the most common problems seem to be (1) difficulty walking, falls arising from such difficulty, and related damage (e.g. broken hips, etc) and (2) mental problems (Alzheimers, dementia etc).   But I don’t know anyone old who has difficulty seeing.

Maybe it is just a coincidence that two Patriarchs were exceptions, and had difficulty seeing.  On the other hand, maybe the Torah telling us that eyesight was a bigger problem 3500 years ago (perhaps due to poor nutrition)?

Another possible source on premodern old age is Shakespeare’s poem “Seven Ages of Man”:

“Is second childishness and mere oblivion, Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

Again we see the reference to bad eyesight (“sans eyes”), and the absence of quality dental care of course caused teeth to fall out (“sans teeth”).   In addition, the phrase “second childlishness” could be a reference to dementia; however, nothing in the Torah indicates that Isaac or Jacob had this problem (especially not Jacob).   But Shakespeare does perhaps back up the idea that blindness was a common feature of premodern old age.

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