Samuel: When 'Friendships' Are Based On Misconceptions About Disability
11/01/2013 - 07:37
Rabbi Michael Levy
Rabbi Michael Levy
Rabbi Michael Levy

On November 2, the conclusion of Shabbat will be followed immediately by the beginning of a new Hebrew month, Kislev. When this Shabbat-New Month sequence occurs, our sages decreed that a special Haftarah is chanted instead of the regular Haftarah for that Shabbat.

The eve of the new month is significant because of Jonathan and David, two unlikely friends who lived around three thousand years ago. Their story, in the Haftarah which will be chanted this Shabbat, appears in chapter 20 of the first book of Samuel.

“Jonathan said to him (David,) ‘Tomorrow will be the new moon; and you will be missed when your seat remains vacant.’”

Jonathan was the son of the reigning king, Saul. God had decreed that the kingship would not pass to Jonathan; it was becoming evident that David would succeed Saul as the ruler.

There was a very real possibility that Saul, severely afflicted with melancholy and rage, would have his son-in-law David killed. Nevertheless, David was expected to sit at the king’s table during the two-day feast celebrating the new month.

When Saul asked about David’s absence, Jonathan replied that David was with his own family. Enraged, Saul hurled his spear at Jonathan, who dodged it just in time. The king condemned David to death. Jonathan risked his life to secretly convey to David that he should flee.

Lasting Friendship

Ethics of the Fathers (chapter 5, Mishnah 19) explains:  “Love (and friendship) that is dependent on some (external attribute) — when the attribute disappears, the love also disappears. But love that is not dependent on anything never ceases… What is an example of a love that does not depend on anything? The love of David and Jonathan.”

Jonathan and David’s friendship had nothing to do with prestige or mutual advantage. The friends devoted themselves to concern for each other’s welfare. In a sense, the friendship outlived the friends; we cherish its memory even today.

The Quest for Genuine Friends

More than once, I have found myself in the following situation:

I’m about to walk home from the synagogue. Somebody says, “May I walk with you?”

“No, thanks, I don’t want you to go out of your way.”

“No, it’s okay, I enjoy your company.”

We walk together and meet a third person. “Could you walk him home?” says my companion, who a few minutes ago told me that he enjoyed my company.

He had disguised the real reason for walking with me:  he believed that because I was blind, I couldn’t walk home safely by myself. The “friendship” was based on his perceptions about people who are blind.

Inclusion and full participation in our communities give us the opportunity to seek true friends. True friends treat each other as “special” without regard to disability, social status or any other external attribute.

As we usher in the new month, we bid farewell to the dwindling old moon. We welcome the new moon, which will grow fuller and brighter. It is a good time to bid farewell to false bonds and to cultivate genuine friendships that will shine brightly for many years.

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

Comments

I'm not sure which is more insulting, being foisted off on a third party for the rest of the walk or being thought not sharp enough to be aware of the perp's insult. Did he think you forgot his "interest" in joining you just a few minutes earlier? I'm sure you were, as always, gracious.

I never cease to be amazed at the wonderful application of Yiddishe sechel to the real, complex world. Not surprised, since I myself enjoy the ethical/moral as well as the ethno/gastric connection to my roots . . . albeit my disdain for the accompanying superstitions, prejudices, etc of organized religions.

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