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Parshas VaEira - Overcoming the Handicap          27 Kislev 5780

01/24/20 11:12:49


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public and private life, including employment, education, transportation and access to all places available to the general public, became law in 1990. On occasion, I find myself giving a ride sharing a trip with someone who has a handicap permit. Typically, I and am told by the handicapped individual that he will bring the permit so we can make parking a bit easier and closer to the venue we are attending together.

There is no question as to the different reasons why a person is entitled to this placard and the necessity it provides and the validity that it justifies. Nevertheless, for a moment I think to myself, “Hey, that’s great, but wait a minute, Baruch Hashem I don’t have a disability., I should not take advantage of this.” After that thought, I realize that it’s not for me but rather for my passenger who legitimately requires it. But then I think to myself, why not drop this person off closer to where we are going and then park somewhere else, then getting the car when it’s time to pick the person up. The law allows the service provider or the vehicle to be a part of this permit because allowing the provider this extra benefit ultimately serves the disadvantaged person while allowing the provider some extra benefit as well.

In truth, we are all handicapped in different ways. Of course, the ADA has proven to be a great step towards directly helping many with physical disabilities. I write the following connection with great trepidation. I am not comparing someone with a disability who falls under the statute of the ADA; all of us have some kind of disability which is not specifically physical, such as spiritual, emotional or personal. This second group mentioned is not entitled to a placard, allowing them to park in a designated parking spot. These disability need to be identified by the individuals themselves. The reason it is important for an individual to recognize and identify such handicaps is so that they will be able to face them in order to work to overcome them.

I am one who has thought back to something that I overcame over a period of time. Perhaps, people look at me today as being outgoing, loud, outspoken, opinionated and the like. This has not been the case my entire life. As a child I was someone who for the most played alone, only rarely going to a friend’s house for a play date. I occupied my time with my cars and soldiers. My pre-teen years were dedicated to sports, yet, even then, played ball, creating games and challenges against myself, i.e. stoop, off the wall and one-on-one basketball. The one-on-one was me against myself. My high school years were a little more social, but I traveled to and from school alone and did not live near the friends I made in high school. Looking back, I’m guessing that it wasn’t until my later teenage years that I became more social but still in a reserved manner. As I entered Yeshiva, I actively took on more of a leadership role, but it did not come naturally; I needed to work on it. Fast forward thirty-five years and at times I feel I just want to be that shy guy, left alone to sit in the corner and not be bothered with constant obligations of communal spiritual leadership. In life, a person who is able to express himself and be a little more outspoken has some benefits (and sometimes detractions). But looking back, I think subconsciously I made these adjustments, understanding that to not do so would have limited my ability to do the things I do today. My situation (not a bad one) was, to a degree, some form of handicap; I needed to face my reluctance to leave my one-on-one inner contentment in order to develop my inner understanding of the need to reach out to others, to share and feel and grow through the awareness of how much each of us can gain through social and emotional experiences which are shared. My disability or challenge was not physical; it was emotional. There is a wide range of disabilities we each of us may find ourselves on the spectrum. Since no one person is perfect, by definition we are all imperfect. Once I recognize an imperfection, I focus inwardly, striving to correct and fix it to whatever degree possible. This notion of a physical yet non-physical disability is found within the most classic fundamental icon, Moshe Rabbeinu.

We are all familiar with the Midrash of Moshe sitting on Pharoah’s lap and was given the test of picking up some sparkling jewels or glowing hot coals. Moshe set out to pick up one of the precious gems, but an angel pushed his hand away towards the coals to pick up the hot, worthless piece rather than the glittering, valuable piece. Hashem sent the Malach (angel) to change course to convince Pharoah that Moshe was not so smart, that he couldn’t be the savior for the Jewish people. This event allowed Moshe to live and grow up as an Egyptian prince who one day might ascend to the throne and not to become the leader of the Jewish people. When Moshe picked up the hot coal, he immediately dropped it and brought his burning fingers to his lips to cool down. As a result, the Midrash explains that act created some type of speech defect in either Moshe’s tongue or on his lips. This physical limitation is brought up as a defense for Moshe to decline the mission for which he was hand-picked by God. We see this clearly stated in the Torah.

In this week’s Torah reading Parshas Va’eira, God gives a second demurral to Moshe. It states in Shmos 6:29,30: וַיְדַבֵּ֧ר יְהוָ֛ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹ֖ר אֲנִ֣י יְהוָ֑ה דַּבֵּ֗ר אֶל־פַּרְעֹה֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ מִצְרַ֔יִם אֵ֛ת כָּל־אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֲנִ֖י דֹּבֵ֥ר אֵלֶֽיךָ׃ “God spoke to Moshe and said, ‘I am God. Relate to Pharoah, king of Egypt, that I am saying to you.’ וַיֹּ֥אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֖ה לִפְנֵ֣י יְהוָ֑ה הֵ֤ן אֲנִי֙ עֲרַ֣ל שְׂפָתַ֔יִם וְאֵ֕יךְ יִשְׁמַ֥ע אֵלַ֖י פַּרְעֹֽה׃ “Interrupting the revelation, Moshe said, ‘I do not have the self-confidence to speak. How will Pharoah ever pay attention to me?’. Rabbi Aryah Kaplan gives a unique understanding of Moshe’s lip or tongue handicap. This was not the first time Moshe mentioned this excuse. Looking back only a few verses earlier in Shmos 6:12 Moshe claims the same defense. Why does he repeat it again? The Netzi”v, in his commentary HaAmek Davar, explains “not only am I not capable of physically saying the words properly, but in the eyes or ears of Pharoah it would not be well taken.” Hashem took the second time as a sign of humility that Moshe is not on the level of the mighty Pharoah. Hashem in turn has mercy upon Moshe; despite his “shortcomings” Hashem blessed Moshe to succeed in every endeavor and overcame the speech impediment. It is not that he no longer had the impediment; this disability did not impede Moshe from growing and becoming the greatest leader of the Jewish people.

May we all take this great lesson to heart. No matter what challenges we all face, if we accept them with humility, Hashem will bless each and everyone of us not only to overcome but to succeed beyond our greatest dreams.                                                           Ah Gut Shabbos      Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Sat, May 15 2021 4 Sivan 5781