Each year, as January 1 arrives, a billion people watch the ball drop at Times Square. By January 2, we return to our battle with time.
We “kill time,” meet deadlines “just in time,” find ourselves “running out of time,” and struggle to “make time” for our families. Employers offer “time management” courses to increase productivity.
A Different Calendar, A Different Perspective
When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, the Egyptians owned their time as well as their bodies. At any moment, taskmasters could compel them to make bricks, plow fields or do servile housework.
This Shabbat’s Torah portion describes the Israelites’ redemption from slavery. The first step was a gift from God — the establishment of a calendar.
On the first of the Hebrew month of Nissan, two weeks before their liberation, God proclaimed the first Jewish New Year. Rabbi Obadiah Sforno comments that from then on, the Israelites could choose how they spent their minutes, hours and days.
The “Time and Disability” Dilemma
If you have a disability, it may take you longer than your non-disabled peer to read a book, cook a meal, walk to the synagogue or communicate with friends. Nevertheless, you still have choices about using the gift of time.
You can struggle for two hours to independently get dressed and prepare breakfast, or you can accept help and save ninety minutes. You can quickly read a recorded book instead of struggling through the printed version.
My wife, Chava Willig Levy, uses a motorized wheelchair. In her recently published book “A Life Not With Standing,” she discusses a specific “time decision:”
“…the point is to keep moving. For me, sitting down in a motorized wheelchair … offers a faster, more liberating, less exhausting way to keep moving. For so many others, the mere thought of it fills them with revulsion.
… In the 1990s, my chariot of choice was a three-wheeled motorized scooter. Zipping along West End Avenue, I’d often greet elderly people plodding painstakingly with walkers, their pallid faces exuding exhaustion.
‘I wonder if you’d find it easier to get around in a scooter like mine.’
‘Oh, no!’ I’d hear, and sometimes, ‘I’d rather die!’
I’d wish them a good day and sprint ahead, reaching the corner in seconds, leaving them far behind.”
Living with Two Calendars
The secular calendar, with its symbol of the dropping ball, makes time resemble gravity. We find ourselves fighting against time to reach our goals. Disability only increases the “force of gravity.”
Quietly but persistently, the voice of our people’s calendar offers another opinion:
“God bequeathed Time to you as you escaped the bonds of slavery and rose up to become a free nation. Surely the mighty yet compassionate Power that gave you the gift of time will help you use it wisely.”
A native of Bradley Beach, New Jersey, Rabbi Michael Levy attributes his achievements to God’s beneficence and to his courageous parents. His parents supported him as he explored his small home town, visited Israel and later studied at Hebrew University, journeyed towards more observant Judaism, received rabbinic ordination, obtained a master’s degree in social work from Columbia University and lectured on Torah and disability-related topics.
As a founding member of Yad Hachazakah, the Jewish Disability Empowerment Center (www.yadempowers.org), 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, NY. He invites anyone who has disability-related questions to e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org