When Paris Brown was appointed youth commissioner for Kent Police, this talented, confident young woman was in a fantastic position to reach out to youth and build bridges between communities.
This project was soon halted when journalists trawled through her Tweets and found teenage rants and apparently racist and homophobic comments.
A tearful Brown first apologised and later stepped down, leaving the nation wondering about how appropriate it is to involve teenagers in politics and positions of authority. Miriam, as a young girl, was the catalyst for the birth of her brother Moses.
She saw her parents separate, for fear of bringing children into an Egypt where the king had ordered Jewish boys killed.
She impressed upon them the urgency of continuing to live normally in the face of despair, saying that giving up on the future is worse than the command of Pharaoh, for ‘he only decreed upon the males, you decreed upon all’.
Her parents reunited, and once Moses was born, she guarded the baby as his mother placed him among the bulrushes to hide him from Egyptian eyes. David, as a youth, defeated the mighty
Philistine warrior Goliath, and Jeremiah, appointed as a prophet from birth, was a youth when God first spoke with him. There are many such examples throughout the Tanach of the young taking outstanding responsibility.
However, our sages also say only from 40 does one gain understanding, and from 50 counsel (Avot 5.25). Moses spent many years in exile before returning at the age of 80 as the leader of the Jews.
Rabbi Akiva achieved greatness at the same age. Like anything, being a leader is nuanced and multifaceted.
Youth can bring energy and vitality. Having someone fresh, and not yet cynical to the ways of the world, contribute to political life can be truly inspiring.
However at the same time, maturity and experience are invaluable. The Talmud says that the Hebrew word for elder – zaken – is a contraction of ‘ze kana chachma’ – this one has acquired wisdom.
The perspective of having lived, having made mistakes and moved on, and seeing a generation come and go, bring real depth. Our Torah is referred to as the ‘Tree of Life’.
Trees are rooted, dependable, yet always blossoming and producing fruit. We are stronger with the energy of youth, and benefit from the maturity of age.