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.
On Thursday night and Friday we will celebrate Simchat Torah. Amid singing and dancing, we complete the reading of the Torah and, without pause, begin the Torah reading cycle again. I have often marveled that, like a massive oak growing from a small seed, our religion has developed from a portable scroll.
As we celebrate, it is all too easy to overlook the narrative which completes the Torah. It begins:
“And this is the blessing which Moses, the man of God, bestowed on the Israelites before his death.”
Earlier in the Torah narrative, Moses had disobeyed God when the Israelites complained about there being no water to drink. Their grumbling was particularly stressful for him; his sister Miriam had just passed away.
Rather than speaking to a rock as he had been instructed, Moses struck the rock, perhaps exasperated with the Israelites’ behavior. Enough water gushed forth to satisfy the thirst of the entire encampment.
God punished Moses and his brother Aaron, barring them from joining the rest of the Israelites as they entered the Promised Land. While Moses had prayed to God on the Israelites’ behalf throughout his life, it appears that no Israelite prayed to God on Moses’ behalf.
As Moses prepared to ascend Mount Nebo where his life ended, God showed him the land he could not enter. Moses did not grumble. Instead, he spent the last moments of his life bestowing blessings on the tribes of Israel. As he bid them farewell, he did not remind them that his striking the rock had been in part a reaction to their behavior.
With God’s help, Moses had defeated Egypt and its taskmasters. During the forty-year journey through the wilderness, he not only vanquished kings, but also overcame threats to his leadership from within the Israelite camp. Yet his greatest victory may have been to bless, with a full heart, those who had wronged him.
Following Moses’s Example
Most of us who have disabilities have experienced the insensitivity of others. Some people address us loudly, as if we are children whose attention must be focused. In a restaurant, a waiter may ask some one with us “What does he want to order,” as though we were incapable of speaking for ourselves. Some of us tasted bitterness even in this season of sweetness, because of a lack of accommodations related to our disability. Even our input regarding disability issues has sometimes been ignored.
On Yom Kippur, we sought forgiveness and resolved to forgive others. Moses’s example challenges us to bestow forgiveness and blessing on those who have wronged us, and may continue to wrong us.
Of course, we must educate them. We may even need to confront them. Moses spent his entire public life educating the Israelites, and did not hesitate to confront them when it was necessary.
Yet, as Moses’ last lesson showed, forgiveness is necessary and essential, and can become one of our greatest personal accomplishments. Following Moses’ example, let us forgive those who may have wronged us, and include them in our wishes that the entire Community of Israel enjoy a year of sweetness and peace.
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 and now board president of Yad Hachazakah, the Jewish Disability Empowerment Center, Rabbi Levy strives to make the Jewishexperience 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 email@example.com