Ki Taytzay: Can We Honestly Measure A Person?
08/16/2013 - 09:05
Rabbi Michael Levy
Rabbi Michael Levy
Rabbi Michael Levy

A passage from this week's Torah portion, Ki Taytzay, calls for honest measures in business:

"You must not keep in your pouch two different weights, one large and one small. (Similarly,) you must not keep in your house two different measures-one large and one small. You must have a full honest weight and a full honest measure. If you do, you will long endure on the land that the Lord our God has given you."

Measuring People

Like it or not, society continually evaluates and assesses its members. The assessment begins with the interview for Mora Rachel's playgroup. It continues with report cards, transcripts, screening of resumes, performance reviews and dating services. Insurance companies calculate "quality years" when they make decisions about covering end-of-life care. Evaluation "by the numbers" may sometimes be necessary, but can it convey a person's true value?

A person with a disability experiences quantitative and qualitative evaluations that affect education, employment and even social life. Accurate evaluations can help assess strengths and weaknesses, and set a course for successfully coping with a disability.

However, such evaluations must be conducted with great care.  One question can serve as an example:  will a particular person with a disability benefit from using a computer?

Evaluating the Evaluators

In 1984, a government agency investigated how technology could help me on the job. A very nice elderly caseworker offered me a VersaBraille, which was already outdated and wouldn't produce the printed documents that I could
share with sighted co-workers. I spent $300 for an independent evaluation, which directed the funding source to purchase what I really needed – an IBM XT with a printer and speech output device.

It's worth asking: has the "gatekeeper" recommending equipment for the disabled formally studied computer science and its application to the disabled? If not, how can s/he honestly evaluate an individual's technological potential? Can he/she make unbiased judgments when confronted with smooth-talking equipment vendors who may offer discounts to state and
federal funders?

What about the "expert agency" conducting the evaluation? Are its computers compatible with the latest adaptive equipment and software-voice recognition, speech output, customized keyboards for people with limited dexterity, "puff and sip" devices which enable almost totally paralyzed individuals to use a computer? Are the evaluators familiar with speech
augmentation devices, programs that deliver visual and auditory output simultaneously, screen magnification tools and programs that enable a teacher to customize the presentation of English and Hebrew material to meet the specific needs of a student? Could perceptual and language processing difficulties unknown to the agency be affecting the results of the
evaluation?

A Biblical Evaluation

God sent the prophet Samuel to anoint a new king of Israel from the family of Jessie of Bethlehem. Samuel, seeing tall handsome Eliav, concluded that he was the anointed one. God told Samuel "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him, for man examines (measures) with the eyes, while God examines the heart." God also rejected the other sons who were present.

Jessie eventually summoned his son David, ruddy and slight of build, who hadn't even been included in the screening of royal candidates. God chose David.

If we must measure, let us aspire to measure as honestly as we can, always keeping in mind that our assessments may be imperfect, and that human beings possess an essence and a soul that are beyond calculation.

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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