Shabbat-Table Talks: Shemot
Value: Relating with dignity to people with handicaps or disabilities.
Our society contains within it many people with various disabilities. They might
be physical, emotional or educational. A physical disability might serve as an
impediment for people, especially young people, from making friends. What could
happen then is that the person is doubly disabled; they have their initial
disability and now have difficulty making friends because people shy away from
them. In a Torah society, we must educate our children to the value in each
human being regardless of what physical disability they have. People who have
friends who are physically disabled know that they can build sincere and
rewarding relationships with them. Educating our children to be sensitive to
those with physical abilities, not only benefits the handicapped, but makes our
children more focused on what is important in life.
Background: Hashem appeared to Moshe in the burning bush and
commanded him to go and save the Children of Israel from their oppressive
Egyptian servitude. Moshe made several attempts to decline Hashem’s request.
In one of those attempts, Moshe claimed that he is “aral sefatayim,” which
literally means that he is of uncircumcised lips. This is usually thought of as
a physical speech impediment. (Yet, it is also possible to understand that he is
not possessed of great rhetorical skill—not a physical disability.) Hashem’s
answer gives an important understanding of physical disabilities.
Text: Shemot 4:10-12
But Moses said to Hashem,
“please, Hashem, I have never been a man of words, either in times past or now
that You have spoken to Your servant; I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.
And Hashem said to him, who gives man speech? Who makes him mute or deaf, seeing
or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go, and I will be with you as you speak and
will instruct you what to say.”
Analysis: In this verse, God encouraged Moshe to lead Israel
despite Moshe’s self-perception of being disabled. God’s words instruct us
as to the source of physical disabilities. They come from God. They cannot be
seen as punishments, because here is Moshe, the greatest prophet that Israel has
ever known, the person who God chose to reveal His Torah to the world--and he
has a disability. Disabilities are challenges. Moshe had to overcome his
disability in order to carry out God’s will. (In fact, even the word
disability is being replaced with the word “challenged” in some circles.)
Discussion: Do you know anyone that is physically handicapped?
(You might have to explain what this means, for example, someone who cannot see,
or cannot hear or walk. If the answer is no, ask if they have ever seen anyone
in a wheel chair. If not give an explanation. ) What does this verse say about
them? (It says that it is God that made them that way.) Does the verse say why
God made them that way? (No. But it cannot be for a bad reason because Moshe was
made that way.) No one knows why God makes people the way that He does. Maybe
with Moshe he wanted everyone to know that even though Moshe was not a great
speaker God was helping him. What’s
most important about a person, the way they look, or walk or talk, or is it who
they are? There are some people who do not want to be friends with people who
are disabled, what would you tell them? What
would you do if someone disabled became a student in your class?
(The purpose of the last two questions is to have the children translate
the idea into a behavior.)
Rabbinic Approach: Our Hakhamim have taken a beautiful approach to
people born with congenital differences. They say that when we see a person born
with differences such as dwarfism, elephantitis, or when we see an albino or an
extremely tall person, and other differences, we should bless God for creating
diversity. The different become a source of blessing God who creates difference.
(The blessing is “Barukh meshanne habberiyot." Consult with your rabbi as
to whether to say the blessing with God’s name.) [The same text differentiates
between those who were born with differences and those who suffered accidents
and developed those differences later, for whom the blessing is "Barukh
Dayyan ha`emet" - blessed be the judge of truth.]
Story: The following story gives an example of some kids
who have the right idea on what is truly important:
How Losing Is Winning
Perhaps the best way to refute
Vince Lombardi's credo that, "Winning isn't everything -- it's the only
thing," is with a story that happened just recently at a fund-raising
dinner for Chush, a school that serves learning disabled children.
The father of one of the
school's students delivered a speech that would never be forgotten.
After extolling the school and its dedicated staff, he offered a
question. "Everything God does
is done with perfection. Yet, my
son, Shai, cannot learn things as other children do.
He cannot understand things as other children do.
Where is God's plan reflected in my son?"
The audience was stilled by the query.
The father continued. "I
believe," the father answered, "that when God brings a child like Shai
into the world, an opportunity to realize the Divine Plan presents itself.
And it comes in the way people treat that child."
Then he told the following story:
During the week, Shai attends
Chush together with other children who have learning disabilities.
On Sundays, though, Shai
participates in an integrated program with non-challenged boys.
As Shai's father came to pick him up one Sunday, some of his classmates
had begun a game of pick-up baseball. Shai
asked, "Do you think they will let me play?" Shai's father knew that
most boys would not want him on their team.
But the father understood that if his son were allowed to play it would
give him a much-needed sense of belonging.
Shai's father approached one of
the boys on the field and asked if Shai could play. The boy looked around for guidance from his teammates.
Getting none, he took matters into his own hands and said, "We are
losing by six runs, and the game is in the eighth inning.
I guess he can be on our team and we'll try to put him up to bat in the
In the bottom of the eighth
inning, Shai's team scored a few runs but was still behind by three.
At the top of the ninth inning, Shai put on a glove and played in the
outfield. Although no hits came his
way, he was obviously ecstatic just being on the field, grinning from ear to ear
as his father waved to him from the stands.
In the bottom of the ninth inning, Shai's team scored again.
Now, with two outs and the bases loaded, the potential winning run was on
base. Shai was scheduled to be the
next at bat. Would the team
actually let Shai bat at this juncture and give away their chance to win the
game? Surprisingly, Shai was given
Everyone knew that a hit was all
but impossible because Shai didn't even know how to hold the bat properly, much
less connect with the ball. However,
as Shai stepped up to the plate, the pitcher moved a few steps to lob the ball
in softly so Shai could at least be able to make contact.
The first pitch came and Shai swung clumsily and missed.
The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly toward
Shai. As the pitch came in, Shai
swung at the ball and hit a slow ground ball to the pitcher.
The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could easily have thrown the
ball to the first baseman. Shai
would have been out and that would have ended the game. Instead, the pitcher took the ball and threw it on a high arc
to right field, far beyond reach of the first baseman. Everyone started yelling,
"Shai, run to first, run to first."
Never in his life had Shai made it to first base.
He scampered down the baseline, wide-eyed and startled.
Everyone yelled, "Run to second, run to second!"
By the time Shai was rounding first base, the right fielder had the ball.
He could have thrown the ball to the second baseman for a tag. But the
right fielder understood what the pitcher's intentions had been, so he threw the
ball high and far over the third baseman's head. Shai ran towards second base as
the runners ahead of him deliriously circled the bases towards home.
As Shai reached second base, the opposing shortstop ran to him, turned
him in the direction of third base, and shouted, "Run to third!"
As Shai rounded third, the boys from both teams were screaming, "Shai!
Run home!" Shai ran
home, stepped on home plate and was cheered as the hero, for hitting a
"grand slam" and winning the game for his team.
"That day," said the
father softly with tears now rolling down his face, "the boys from both
teams helped bring a piece of the Divine Plan into this world."
And some people would be stupid enough to say that the team Shai played
with were really the losers!
(Many thanks to my college roommate, Jack Doueck, author of _The Hessed Boomerang_, for sending me this story.)
To read last year's Table Talk on Shemot click here.
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