The Exodus from Egypt: A Model for Future Liberations
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The Exodus from Egypt: A Model for Future Liberations

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.

Each Shabbat from January 10 through January 31, 2015, the Torah portions recited in synagogues recount how God liberated the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. For those who are oppressed, Jews and non-Jews alike, the Exodus recalls the determination of slaves to be free and the compassion of God, the Liberator.

Belief-The First Step Towards Liberation

Before the Exodus, no slave had ever escaped from Egypt. Many Israelite slaves, even as redemption neared, succumbed to despair. An important first step towards liberation is realizing that God is not limited by what we humans may consider "the impossible."

It's Hard to Be Free

Poor Moses! For most of the forty years that followed the Exodus, many of his flock rebelled and complained. There's a strong tradition that the Israelites actually tried to return to Egypt during a crisis on their forty-year trek through the wilderness.

Sforno, a Middle Ages biblical commentator, notes that freedom brings with it responsibility for making your own choices. Even today, there are those who subject themselves to one master or another, preferring that he make decisions for them.

Liberation Brings Uncertainty

A little more than a year after the Exodus, twelve Israelite spies surveyed the land of Canaan, the Promised Land. Ten spies convinced the entire generation of former slaves that they would be killed upon reaching their destination. God deemed them unworthy of freedom. After forty years, it was the next generation who conquered the land.

Modern-Day Liberation from Slavery

Even before the Civil War, black slaves, inspired by the Exodus, sang "Go Tell It on the Mountain" and "Go Down Moses." Martin Luther King drew inspiration from the Exodus. In his speech, "I've Been to the Mountaintop," King states: "I would watch God's children in their magnificent trek from the dark dungeons of Egypt through, or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the promised land." Applied to the civil rights movement, the suffering endured by freedom fighters and protesters becomes a prelude to freedom. (See "The Biblical Exodus in the Rhetoric of Martin Luther King," Amon Tuason, The Stanford Freedom Project.)

Liberation for Jews with Disabilities: From Isolation to Participation

The Exodus reminds us that we ourselves must take the first steps on the journey towards full participation in our Jewish communities. We must believe that participation is possible and desirable. The next step is to emerge from the "land of special needs," and move towards a world in which we become ever more responsible for making choices and living with their consequences.

The journey is not easy. Some Jewish organizations, challenged by disabled individuals who are not passive and compliant, may ignore or resist our goal of full participation. Like other disadvantaged minorities, we will no doubt struggle to reach our goal, encountering complainers and the faint of heart in our midst.

May God guide and sustain us in our struggle. After all, God's demand to Pharaoh: "Let my people go," is immediately followed by the phrase "so that they may worship Me."

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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