Behind The Mask — God’s Presence
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Behind The Mask — God’s Presence

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.

Rabbi Michael Levy
Rabbi Michael Levy

During the merry celebration of Purim this upcoming Saturday night and Sunday, children and even adults will wear masks and costumes. Masks echo the theme of concealment in the Purim story itself, which we will read in the Scroll of Esther.

Queen Esther’s Hidden Identity

In the Purim story, Ahaschuerus selects Esther as his new queen. She takes great care to conceal from him that she is a Jew.

Our rabbis, commenting on the Purim story, explain that the name Esther is related to the Hebrew word “has-tair,” — hidden. God made Esther’s appearance “vague,” so that every royal minister imagined that she was a citizen of his particular province.

At the right time, Esther reveals to the king that she is a Jew. She is instrumental in bringing about the miraculous delivery of the Jews from Haman’s plan to exterminate them.

God Is Also Hidden

God’s name does not appear even once in the Book of Esther. It was left to the Jews themselves to affirm that God, behind the scenes as it were, was directing what on the surface appeared to be just a series of political events. Each year’s subsequent celebration of Purim inspires us to explore both the triumphs and tragedies in Jewish history, and open ourselves to the awareness of God’s unseen Hand.

Searching for God in Our “Personal History”

Like Jewish history, our individual life histories feature triumphs and tragedies, successes and setbacks. We may be subject to circumstances beyond our control which have an impact on what we can and cannot accomplish.

A person whose “life history” includes having a disability, may ask him or her-self “Why did God make me disabled? Where is God, as I struggle against societal barriers?”

Not an Answer, But a Perspective

A simplistic approach to the “religion of science” conveys the message that we can understand everything that we observe. Many of the people who give answers to questions about the “whys” of life and disability may also believe that there are explanations for everything.

As we wear our Purim masks and contemplate the theme of concealment in the Purim story, we can also contemplate that the universe may conceal at least as much as it reveals.

In my own search for a Concealed God, I look to, among others, Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel. In 1963, he gave the following message to young people:

“God does not dwell beyond the sky. He dwells, we believe, in every heart that is willing to let God in.”

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 info@yadempowers.org

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