What happens in your synagogue as Adon Olam, (“Master of the World”) the final hymn of the Shabbat morning service, is recited?  One might affectionately say that they atmosphere becomes a bit less spiritual and somewhat more spirited. Prayer shawls start moving from shoulders to velvet bags.  Like horses at the starting gate, children strain towards the congregant who gives them treats.  Adults (including me) anticipate the Kiddush in the social hall…

Adon Olam’s concluding four Hebrew words “Hashem Li velo Ira-God is on my side, I shall not fear,” are often drowned out by the clamor of the procession exiting the synagogue.The words echo Psalms 118, 6:  “God is on my side, I shall not fear.  What can a human being do to me?”  We recite them at the Seder and during every morning service of Passover.

 

What does “I Shall not fear” mean?

Our ancestors experienced frightening moments.  Jacob prayed in terror
before facing his brother Esau, who had previously threatened to kill him. Queen Esther broke Persian law, risking her life to speak with King
Ahaschuerus without being summoned.  King David confronted foes, even from within his own family.

To me, the words mean “God is with The ESSENTIAL ME, I will not let my life be dominated by fear.”  We can be so overwhelmed by our perceptions of powerful people that we go through our days NOT developing our own talents and interests, but rather avoiding situations which might displease the people to whom we ascribe so much power.

My Fears Limited me much more than my disability

At age 6, I spent four weeks away from home at a camp for the blind.  After that, I began to picture myself as a frightened helpless victim.

My siblings didn’t have to leave home, but I was “sent away” because I was blind.  If I didn’t show enough independence, the Big Bad Commission for the Blind would ship me off to a residential school for the blind, like the blind girl in a nearby town.

Later, I perceived myself as not having a history of job successes like
other kids.  Without discussing my fears with anybody, I decided that I
couldn’t be a competent rabbi because I did not have independent access to primary Jewish texts (this has now changed.)

Liberation from Fear

As a Dennis Lehane character puts it, “I do not want to wake up some day as an old man and realize that I have been living someone else’s life.” Leaving victimhood behind, I can stop blaming others and take responsibility for my life.  In a fortunate society whose government does not terrorize its citizens, no human being has absolute power over me.

Saying is Believing

After Passover has departed, we will still chant “Adon Olam” every Shabbat. Before rushing off to Kiddush, it’s worth pondering the concluding phrase “The Lord is on my side, I shall not fear.”

Rabbi Michael Levy: As a founding member of Yad Hachazakah, the Jewish Disability Empowerment Center, Rabbi Levy strives to make the Jewish experience and Jewish texts accessible to Jews with disabilities. In lectures at Jewish camps, synagogues and educational institutions, he cites Nachshon, who according to tradition, boldly took the plunge into the Red Sea even before it miraculously parted. Rabbi Levy elaborates, “We who have disabilities should be Nachshons, boldly taking the plunge into the Jewish experience, supported by laws and lore that mandate our participation.” Rabbi Levy is currently director of Travel Training at MTA New York City Transit. He is an active member of Congregation Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, N.Y. He invites anyone who has disability-related questions to email him.