In the June 3, 2021 issue of the Star-Ledger, there were two news items of interest:
—Felix Breedy, age 76, has a part-time job of umpiring baseball games that take place all over Northern New Jersey. The games are usually on a high school level. On the week in question, Mr. Breedy had already umpired 10 games.
—It is 12 years after Bernard Madoff confessed to his infamous Ponzi scheme; he is now deceased; and a federal trustee by the name of Irving Picard and a group of attorneys are still trying to get billions of dollars back to those who were swindled. A large number of these victims had retired (early) with the reasonable belief that their earnings had been well-protected.
Many articles have been written about the age of retirement now reached by the generation of baby boomers. Due to the shaky economy in the last decade, many boomers put off early retirement. Some have not yet decided to retire and continue to work. What guidance does Torah wisdom have for this generation? In a biography written about the Torah giant Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky zt”l, there is a section about the ability of Rav Yaakov to dispense practical advice and wisdom. For this, he was known as a yoetz, a man of wisdom and good counsel.
The book describes how Rav Yaakov was asked by an admirer if the latter should retire when he reached 65. He had apparently worked long and hard, and was looking forward to a tranquil life of retirement. Rav Yaakov cautioned the man to reconsider his plan. This was based on a Talmudic teaching that “idleness leads to ennui” (i.e. extreme boredom). As Rav Yaakov saw it, if one has the ability to contribute to society, he should not cease from doing so, health permitting.
Now back to the articles in the Star-Ledger. Breedy gets a maximum per game pay of $85. Why does he do it? “It’s something to get up in the morning and look forward to doing. It keeps you alive.” For those who are at retirement age and are putting it off, the rationale rings true. We all need to wake up and have something to which we can look forward. If retirees still have something to contribute, why not continue doing that? For those who wish to look forward to other non-work activities, there are many options as well. There is daily minyan, a shiur, afternoon kollel, shul/school committees, chesed projects and more. Making these choices can truly keep the retiree alive … and fulfilled.
What insights can the retiree get from the article about those fleeced by Madoff? Surely they did nothing wrong. As one of the victims told the reporter: “You don’t get something for nothing. Basically, if it is too good to be true, it is.”
Planning for retirement must be made with prudent and thoughtful investments, proper financial advice and conservative planning. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Furthermore, retirement need not be a full stop to one’s work history. There is part-time work, seasonal work, and per diem work to consider as well. I personally know a number of individuals who left full-time work and then became teaching substitutes and assistants. Some will
retire from their field of endeavor only to find they miss their work schedule. It is no shame to un-retire in such an instance.
The boomer generation also provides opportunities for those who employ other individuals in their businesses, schools and organizations. How many schools need extra professionals for the resource room, tutoring and administrative tasks? Why not ask some of the retirees you have gotten to know to fill in? They have a world of experience and skills to contribute. A rabbi is taking off for the summer? Why not ask a retired rabbi if he can fill in? Your chesed project has untapped needs due to budgetary constraints? This is a perfect spot for the able retiree to assist.
A number of years ago, I attended a retirement dinner for a colleague. The main speaker made reference to the famous question of Rashi: “Why is the topic of the shemitah year juxtaposed with the topic of Sinai?” The presenter offered the following analysis. The word “shemitah” refers to a cessation from work. Sinai refers to Torah scholarship.
Could we not interpret the question and state, “How can retirement pertain to the scholar?” The scholar never rests, as he has plenty of work to accomplish. We were all put here because there is work to be done. Retirement may mean a diminished output, but it surely does not mean that all purposeful work needs to cease.
There is much to do, baby boomers. And there is much these boomers can do. A proper shidduch may need. We will all profit.
The mussar giant, Rav Yisroel Salanter, once told of how a cobbler inspired him. He saw the cobbler working well after sunset. Rav Yisroel asked him how he could work so late. The answer was this: “As long as the candle burns, there is still work to do.” To Rav Yisroel this meant that as long as we are whole in body and soul, there is work to accomplish. As Felix Breedy the umpire knows, it is this goal that keeps us alive, boomer or otherwise.
Rabbi Rosenfeld has been a pulpit rabbi for many years and now maintains a divorce and family mediation practice in Fair Lawn.