Shabbat-Table Talks: Shemot

To read last year's Table Talk on Shemot click here.

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 ninth inning." 


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 the bat. 


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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