When The Shofar Sounds: Re-Connecting to God
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When The Shofar Sounds: Re-Connecting to God

As we enter Yom Kippur, Rabbi Michael Levy emphasizes the importance of letting go of our assumptions about disability.

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

For millennia during the High Holiday season, Jews have reviewed the old year and contemplated a New Year of hope and uncertainty.  Flocking to synagogues, we long to re-connect not only to God’s mercy and sustenance, but also to the Divine spark which impels us to improve ourselves.

That Divine spark, as discussed in my previous blog, needs guidance from clergy, educators and parents to remain aglow as children mature into adults.

How can we sustain and enhance the Divine spark in ourselves and others?  Some answers emerge from the Dawn Of Creation.

God’s Action Plan

When God breathed an Eternal Soul into Adam, He didn’t want Adam to remain isolated, in lofty meditation.  He tasked Adam with naming animals according to their qualities.

Learning about animals forced Adam to confront his unique human identity, and suffer the heart-breaking realization that no animal was suitable to partner with him.  That’s when God created Eve.

Those of us with disabilities are often labeled with an identity (special needs, inspirational, challenged) before we can discover the unique Divine spark in ourselves, which may have nothing to do with disability.  .  Meaningful tasks and sometimes painful struggle bring us the maturity and self-knowledge required to express our God-given talents in our families and communities.

The Perils of the Blame Game

Defying God’s prohibition, Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.  Instead of seeking forgiveness, Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the snake. Their Divine Spark dimmed.

We understandably castigate synagogues and schools which exclude Jews with disabilities.  However, we must progress beyond blame.  Then, we can join the quest to remove barriers to worship, learning, earning, and seeking a soul-mate.

God is the Greatest Giver

Our tradition notes that at the beginning of the Torah, God provided Adam and Eve with leather clothing.  A few verses from the Torah’s conclusion, God Himself saw to the proper burial of Moses.

Some of us with disabilities may not have mastered the art of giving when we were young.  Believing that all people with disabilities lead sad lives, some well-meaning camps and schools persist in constantly putting us on the receiving end of parties, adventures and fun to make us happy.

When you’re only a taker, you can’t develop the Divine quality of giving.  A person who isn’t a giver may never be ready for a job, meaningful companionship, or leadership.

God’s “Science Project”

Greek mythology describes the gods’ efforts to deny mankind the benefit of fire.  The Gemara (Pesachim 54) portrays God as encouraging Adam to make a fire, indicating His approval of humankind’s technological (and by extension medical. innovations.

Thanks to two Divine gifts—- the impetus to channel nature and human ingenuity, the rate of technological and medical life-enhancing breakthroughs is now measured in years, not decades. 

Meditations About Disability as We Usher In 5780

We (including myself) must realize that no one person or organization has all the answers about enhancing the Divine spark in other human beings.  No single doctor, service provider, software genius or so-called “inclusion expert” can keep up with the new tools and techniques that remove barriers and strengthen our capacity to be givers.

We must therefore (a) never make assumptions about disability based only on our own knowledge, and (b) work together to nourish the Divine spark which elevates humanity’s thoughts and actions.

Once again, we flock to synagogues to connect with God.  When the Shofar sounds, may it spur us on to partner with God to make this world a better place.  May its poignant cries echo our prayer for Heavenly Guidance to combine our God-given unique talents in this endeavor.

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.
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