Dedicated to the Memory of Judy Goldberg
As this week’s Torah portion, “Vayetze,” begins, Jacob is fleeing, from his brother Esau’s anger. He suddenly finds himself destitute, cut off from the support and tranquility of his family.
Sleeping on the ground with a stone under his head, Jacob dreams of angels ascending and descending a ladder connecting earth to heaven. God reassures him of His protection through the long journey which Jacob has just begun.
Change is the Norm, Not the Exception
Jacob’s angels, always in motion, remind us that in health, wealth, education, employment, relationships and one’s connection to spiritual matters, the years always bring change. Unlike some other biblical angels who are able to fly, these angels move rung by rung, teaching us how to manage setbacks and successes.
If you experience a decline in strength, a relationship that doesn’t work out, a loss of income or times when God seems very distant, you need not consider yourself a failure. You may be forced to descend a few rungs on the ladder, but this does not represent absolute defeat.
If you try to skip a few rungs while climbing, imagining that that a new medication, the latest computer or prosthetic device, your first job or a “head-over-heels” relationship will magically make your problems disappear, you are in for a disappointment. It is better to climb rung by rung, enjoying small triumphs on the way.
When Life Becomes Turbulent
Most of us, both disabled and non-disabled, can be fairly certain that we will wake up on the same rung of the ladder Monday morning where we found ourselves on Sunday night. Like traveling at cruising altitude on a jet, the upward and downward bumps are manageable.
For some of us, however, this is not the case. If you have arthritis or multiple sclerosis, you may find on Monday that getting out of bed is harder than it was on Sunday. In other cases, vision, hearing, speech, digestion, balance, memory, mood or breathing may vary quickly and unpredictably.
During such turbulence, people may find themselves asking “How am I going to get through today?”
When I experienced a period of turbulence a number of years ago, Rabbi Fischel Schachter offered a comforting perspective:
Even if your efforts seem miniscule, strengthen your connection to the top of the ladder through prayer, study and acts of kindness. Don’t be afraid to secure a better foothold on the lower rungs by reaching out for help. After all, you’d help some one who reached out to you.
You may be ascending the ladder, plummeting downward, or being tossed back and forth from rung to rung. Whatever you do, never let go of the ladder.
During the last years of her life, Judy Goldberg fought through the turbulence of illness and accidents. Nevertheless, she clung steadfastly to the ladder. In fact, her dedication to bettering the lives of people with disabilities made it easier for many of us to ascend from one rung to the next. May her memory be for a blessing.
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