Where Moses Failed: A Drash On Disability
03/08/2013 - 14:57
Rabbi Daniel Grossman
Rabbi Daniel Grossman
Rabbi Daniel Grossman

Two weeks ago, we read the portion Zahor, in which we remember what Amalek did to us, attacking the weakest elements of our people when they were most vulnerable. This past week, we read the portion Ki Tissa, and how the shattered tablets of the Ten Commandments were not discarded or buried. Rather, they were placed with respect into the Ark, alongside the new set of Tablets. What is the connection?

While we have been taught that the sin of Amalek was the way they attacked our people from the rear, the weakest people at the weakest point, I want to suggest that Moses must also shoulder some of the responsibility for this attack. Moses should have felt a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable of our people, the persons who could not keep up with the majority. Rather than straggling in the back, these people should have been moved forward, to the center where they would be protected, surrounded and given the recognition that their fragile state should have been the concern of Moses and the Tribal leaders.

In the portion Ki Tissa, Moses places into the Ark every piece, even the broken fragments of the Ten Commandments. He does this with careful respect and love. The traditional sources teach us that this is a lesson in how to show respect to the elderly and the infirm. Treat each person with respect and dignity, without regard to their present usefulness.

Let’s put these two pieces together. Moses, like many present-day leaders, is so concerned for the overall welfare of the group (or the education of the group, etc.) that he ignored those Jews who could not keep up or fend for themselves. Like the great teacher he was, Moses learned from his experiences. He placed the fragments side by side with the whole tables – each valuable in its own right. Today, when we ignore or just give lip service to the Special Needs community, then communally, socially, and educationally, we leave Jews vulnerable to a new Amalek. Lack of knowledge, lack of experience and lack of a loving connection to Judaism is the modern equivalent to Amalek. When we are inclusive in worship, education, and community, we place all our people in the Ark of the Covenant with love and respect. 

May we learn the value of inclusion and the responsibility to carry everyone in the Ark of the Covenant.

Rabbi Daniel T. Grossman has led Adath Israel Congregation in Lawrenceville, New Jersey for 25 years. He is a graduate of Temple University, Hebrew University, Mirkaz HaRav Kook in Jerusalem and the Reconstructionist Rabbincal College. Rabbi Grossman also works in the field of Jewish Special Education and co-wrote and participated in the video “Someone is Listening,” the story of a young deaf Jew and his search for fulfillment as a Jewish adult. Rabbi Grossman is also fluent in several sign languages.

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You are right. Move people with disabilities in the center. What a lesson. If I recall properly, Moses himself had a disability- a speech impediment and his brother spoke for him. So that makes it doubly ironic.

On a related note - I've added this reading from the Ma'yan Hagada to my family's seders for a few years...


Some do not get the chance to rise and spread out like golden loaves of challah, filled with sweet raisins and crowned with shiny braids.

Rushed, neglected, not kneaded by caring hands, we grow afraid that any touch might cause a break. There are some ingredients we never receive.

Tonight, let us bless our cracked surfaces and sharp edges, unafraid to see our brittleness and brave enough to see our beauty.

Reaching for wholeness, let us piece together the parts of ourselves we have found and honor all that is still hidden.

Wow. Great stuff, Rabbi G. Can we share it as part of some materials on talking about disability at the Seder table this yomtov? For friends of www.campshutaf.org, the org that I founded in Jerusalem. Email me at beth@campshutaf.org.

What a beautiful message.. Shabbat shalom

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