On Tuesday night, August 26, the "spiritual pre-season," leading up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, began. We celebrated the first day of Elul, the Hebrew month during which Jews traditionally examine their behavior and contemplated self-improvement.
A Wake-Up Call from Our Liturgy
From Elul through the 8th day of Sukkot, we recite Psalm 27 twice daily. It begins "Of David, The Lord is my Light and my Salvation, whom shall I fear? It concludes "Hope in the Lord, be strong and let your heart take courage, and hope in the Lord." The Hebrew word for hope, "qaveh," also has the meaning of "expect, anticipate, await."
What Might God Expect from Us?
God wouldn't challenge us to improve ourselves if He had not given us the capacity to do so. Improvement can mean being less angry, being kinder to others, taking on a mitzvah, or succumbing less often to despair. For those of us who have disabilities, improvement can mean defying both the messages of limitation" that we too often receive, and doing something, large or small, to help all Jews with disabilities gain access to synagogues, schools and social events.
As Ethics of the Fathers points out, it is unrealistic to expect to "finish the job" quickly. Yet we must be strong and sincerely aspire to begin the work.
What Should We Expect from God?
Hoping in God is complicated. On the one hand, His Attribute of Justice would treat every human being in accordance with his/her accomplishments and misdeeds. On the other hand, God's Attribute of Mercy is ready to forgive a truly contrite worshipper.
My Personal Picture of Hope
In his younger days, Dr. Hyman Grossbard worked at a school for children whose behavior was so disturbed that they couldn't live at home. Once one of the boys ran away from the school. Perhaps he had given up on self-improvement.
Frantically, Professor Grossbard drove around the area until he found the boy. He returned with the boy to within a few blocks of the school and stopped the car. He told the boy, "You have a choice now. I can drive you back to the school, and everybody will know that I caught you. Or, I can let you can leave the car and walk back to school yourself. Everyone will then believe that you made your own decision to come back.
"If my supervisors ever find out about this arrangement, it could end my career. Can I trust you to return to school on your own?"
The boy nodded. Professor Grossbard opened the door. The boy, with a renewed sense of dignity, walked back into the school himself.
I'd like to think that at this time of year, God searches for all of us, and reminds us that we have the power to correct our misdeeds. We can hope that God will trust us enough to decide ourselves to correct our misdeeds.
For Israel, for many innocents worldwide, and perhaps for many of us, 5774 has not been an easy year. May 5775 bring out the best in individuals and in nations, so that God, seeing us all seeking the right path, blesses us beyond even our own expectations.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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