In this week’s Torah portion, Vayehi, Jacob speaks to each of his children, honestly and directly. Jacob’s blessings look at the events of his son’s pasts, and his evaluation of their individual futures. This Torah portion began the tradition of Ethical Wills. Ethical Wills focus on the legacy of values we leave to our children and not a legacy of material goods.
Imagine the possibility for joy, happiness and hope, if parents of a special needs child were to regularly sit with their child, speak about the reality of the past and share their dreams for the future. These children would then have the opportunity to share their hopes with us. Over the years, I have experienced wondrous moments of joy as my students were given the opportunity to hear others’ hopes for them and their own personal dreams.
Years ago, a young adult with multiple physical and intellectual issues worked very long and hard to reach the day of her Bat Mitzvah. She chanted the HafTorah completely, led us in several prayers and had a remarkable experience. A few years later, I attended a graduation program where this young woman, after years of hard work, got a High School Certificate. When someone asked her how she felt at the moment she got her certificate, she replied, “At my Bat Mitzvah they said I could do things. They said it. I knew I could do this too!” Like Jacob, her family and teachers were realistic about her past and present and encouraging and hopeful for her future.
Jacob understood the limitations of his children. Jacob also believed in their potential. I hope for all of us, we can speak honestly to the limitations of our loved ones, and share with them the blessing of hope, joy and encouragement so that their futures may hold many blessings.
Rabbi Daniel T. Grossman has led Adath Israel Congregation in Lawrenceville, New Jersey for 25 years. He is a graduate of Temple University, Hebrew University, Mirkaz HaRav Kook in Jerusalem and the Reconstructionist Rabbincal College. Rabbi Grossman also works in the field of Jewish Special Education and co-wrote and participated in the video “Someone is Listening,” the story of a young deaf Jew and his search for fulfillment as a Jewish adult. Rabbi Grossman is also fluent in several sign languages.