After the Israelites crossed the Red Sea and emerged victorious in the war against Amalek, Moses’ father-in-law Jethro joined them in the wilderness. Our Torah portion recounts how he was welcomed by the congregation:
“Aaron and all the elders of Israel came to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law before God.” (Exodus 18, 12.) The commentator Rashi wonders “Where was Moses?” He concludes that Moses was occupied himself with serving the meal (rather than eating with Aaron, Jethro and the elders.) One can imagine that Moses also saw to the preparation of the meal.
The more we help prepare for a celebration, the more we’ll enjoy it. The most prominent realization of this idea in Jewish life is preparing for Shabbat.
It is not uncommon to begin baking or cooking for Shabbat as early as Wednesday. By Thursday, families wash clothes and begin cleaning the house.
The preparations intensify on Friday. In some households, the Shabbat table is set by noon. Families are busy polishing shoes, dressing in their best attire, and setting aside the clamor and clutter of the weekday.
Being a Contributor During the Celebration
Like Moses, some family members are not always sitting at the Shabbat table. They are busy serving the meal or cleaning up.
People at the table can also contribute. A person with “people skills” can subtly and artfully make sure that one person does not monopolize the conversation, and that everyone has an opportunity to speak. Sometimes it’s a good idea to change the subject, as when young couples discuss their babies in the presence of a couple who is struggling to have children.
The “Celebration Experience” for People with Disabilities
There are individuals and organizations who believe that disability is such a hardship that “compensation” is needed. Students, campers and even adults who are disabled may be almost continuously showered with treats and entertainment.
Genuine inclusion means having the opportunity to help prepare for a celebration. The “fringe benefit” of preparation is the interaction with other people as you invite guests, set up the “party room,” arrange seating, serve food and make sure that everybody is comfortable.
Most people associate our Torah portion with God’s revelation of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. Let us not overlook what Moses teaches us about the very “ordinary” tasks involved in planning for and contributing to celebrations.
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