[This month's Kosher Cooking Carnival is here; enjoy]
40 is coming, in just a few weeks.
This development brings with it many different emotions, on many different levels, but one stands out for me: A sense of limits. Not depressingly, just realistically.
All of us have limits, of course, from the start of our lives, but as we get older and hit certain stages, key limitations become obvious and cannot be ignored. This birthday is drawing my attention to them.
We encounter llimits in terms of mortality. This varies from person to person, but we hit gray hair, no hair, reading glasses, a bad back and muscle pain, etc.
We encounter limits in terms of career. We realize we won't go as far as we had wanted, or enter new careers that we had always hoped to join.
We encounter limits in terms of growth. We recognize we're not going to get around to learning Mandarin, or getting a really good handle on materials sciences, not because we have too little time left but because we can see how our lives are going and how we make our decisions.
And so on.
The gemara (Avodah Zarah 19b) identifies the age of 40 as the minimum age for offering serious psak [legal rulings], or, as the Beis Yosef (Yoreh Deah 242) renders it, the deadline past which a capable person may not stall offering serious psak. What is so special about 40? Why isn't it a matter of what you have learned, as opposed to the years you have lived?
I posed the question in a recent class, and one person said it's because people will listen to you at 40. Another suggested this is an age when one has had life experiences which prepare him to handle a situation properly. Another suggested that people are more stable and responsible at this stage in life.
These are all valid answers. I wonder, though, if it isn't also that by the age of 40 one is forced to accept a certain humility, in the awareness of his limitations.