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תרומה –תצוה (Exodus 25- 30:10) T'rumah and T'tzaveh-- And you shall be a blessing....


Trying out a new blog format, feedback welcome!


In our lives:
February is Jewish Disability Awareness month. Awareness itself is an interesting term to wrap your mind around, it makes me ask: how are we building “awareness” and about what specifically? Are we being ‘aware’ just by engaging in conversations about disabilities? How do we talk about disability, in what context, and what actions are we taking in our society to help those who may have different physical or mental challenges. I took this week to reflect on what it means to be able-bodied, the ways in which each person is a gift, and the varying individual tools each person has at his/her disposal. Many organizations in the Jewish world are doing work to think through how to integrate Jewish Disability Awareness month within their own communities. See links below.


When it comes to talking about disabilities I am always struck by the importance of language. Have you ever thought about the negative association formed with words used to describe several handicaps? The implications from these words such as handicap, disabled, wheelchair bound, amputee, retard, etc, are all negative. Language is important, especially when it affects how we view people. One way to combat negative connotations of language is to state the person first rather than the handicap. For example the man who is blind vs. the blind man. This shows that it is only one aspect of his identity rather than the defining factor. Given that every person is differently able, and we each have different strengths and weakness it seems unfair to label someone who only has one arm, or will never surpass a third grade reading level as disabled, why not label each person as unique? Idealistic, I know, but I still feel there is a better way to describe people then by pointing out their limitations first. Instead of the girl with brown hair it becomes the deaf girl. When we talk about disabilities there is a certain amount of sorrow or unspoken pity for those who can’t do certain tasks. Take a minute to think of how exceptional those who are disabled would feel if we took the time to ask questions about their challenges and how they can accomplish something instead of making our own assumptions about their capabilities.


Reflecting:
When I reflect on why it is important to have a month where we think about the disabled among us I think about the individual tools we each possess. It is naïve to think that we can do everything on our own; we must look to the support of others to help us iron out our own strengths and weaknesses. We each have gifts, and we each have a set of tools, it is figuring out how to use them well, and how to learn from others that is the real challenge. We are each only as able as we let ourselves be. There is so much that we can learn from one another if we are willing to both ask for and accept help. Those with physical or mental disabilities are just like everyone else with their own strengths and weaknesses. Think of those you admire who have amazing talents. Are even the extremely gifted able to do everything well? Or is there something in particular that they shine at, and other things which they struggle with? We must figure out how to use our resources to the best of our abilities including allowing others to support us in the ways where we may not be as ‘able’ as our friends, family or neighbor.

With everything we do we must look to those around us and be open to learning. When we think we can do everything on our own we lose the ability to be positively influenced and changed by others. I think we give up our own self growth when we assume we have no need for others help.


From the source:
The past two weeks Torah portions, T’rumah and T’tzaveh talk about how the Jews did and should build the tabernacle, or sanctuary. Building is something we must do together, when we build or create we use our own tools to make something spectacular. To me, building is similar to learning from each-other. One builds together the same way one learns from the teaching of others. We rely on the wisdom and abilities of those that came before us and the unique gifts that we can bring to the table. Whether you are brilliant, musically gifted, an artist, an economist, a pop-culture guru, etc. everyone has a passion and the ability to share; it’s what we learn from one another that builds our individual character. So the next time you see someone struggling don't pity them but rather offer your skills and look for what you can learn from them as well. I guarantee the only thing standing between you and those around you is fear and the inability to see past differences. Think positively and ask the person in your midst to share their gift with you.

"The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him (yidvenu libo)…And let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them."

(Exodus, 25:1, 2, 8)

While the text deals with the specific building of a tabernacle, we also see pieces of how God asks for the gifts of the people to be shared with him. Showing us to not only be appreciative of the gifts that are offered to us, but also to be receptive of where these gifts come from. Our gifts are our passions and we must always remember how much we have both to offer and to learn from each person among us. By interacting together we can achieve holiness similar to that which comes from the building of the tabernacle.


As we continue to read the story of Exodus, I'm reminded that last week we celebrated both Moses’s birthday and date of death on Friday, the 7th of Adar. Moses, while a memorable Jewish leader in history was ‘slow of speech’ implying a lisp or speech impediment. Yet when Moses is remembered we speak of his strengths and accomplishments. In fact his brother Aaron often spoke on his behalf, but it was Moses who was the visionary and whom God choose to lead the Jewish people on their journey. Let us not forget the skills we can share with the world and the ways in which we can be open to the teachings of those among us whether able-bodied or disabled.


And you shall be a blessing.....

Debbie Friedman’s lyrics:

L'chi lach, to a land that I will show you

Leich l'cha, to a place you do not know
L'chi lach, on your journey I will bless you
And you shall be a blessing
L'chi lach, and I shall make your name great
Leich l'cha, and all shall praise your name
L'chi lach, to the place that I will show you


Union for Reform Judaism Jewish Disability Awareness Month related blogposts
North American Federation for Temple Youth JDAM Resources
Religious Action Center engages with JDAM
Gateways Jewish education for children with disabilities

Follow #JDAM on twitter

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ּבשלח (Exodus 13:17-17:16) B'shalach- Are Miracles always good?

The Text:
This week's Torah portion highlights the miracles that occur as the Jews leave the land of Egypt. Mainly, this miracle refers to Moses parting the red sea in order for the Jews to safely cross out of Egypt. We often use the word miracle when taking about something unexplainable, or supernatural. As my niece cited "we use (the word) miracle when we talk about hope." What she meant by this is that we pray for miracles, hope, change; all positive occurrences. Is the word miracle ever used to highlight a negative change? Or, when something negative happens and since we view it as "for the best" we say it is a miracle? This miracle, which assists in the final step of the Jews exodus, is sung about at every Friday night Shabbat service. When we sing the prayer Mi Chamocha, we say, "Who is like you Eternal one, among the Gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor, doing wonders?" As Jewish communities sing the Mi Chamocha they do so to show praise for a God that performs amazing, and unexplainable miracles that we can only continue to hope will happen in our lives. Some people spend their entire lives waiting for a miracle or the near impossible to occur. When we sing this prayer we are showing that we believe in God's ability to perform these miracles. What isn’t talked about in this particular miracle is that after the red sea is closed thousands of Egyptians drowned. Do we turn an eye to these Egyptian murders because their deaths 'miraculously' saved the Jewish people? While we are taught 'you shall not kill', does this not apply when perhaps the death itself is 'for the best'? Or when it is in self-defense?

The Implication:
There are very few "miracles" that occur in our lives anymore. A miracle is more than a happy occasion; it is trying to explain the unexplainable. Something that is still miraculous in our lives is the creation of people. Scientifically we know how cells multiply and how babies come to be as growing organisms but the fact is that the creation of human life is still miraculous. As is the body's ability to heal itself. This week I found myself in conversation with a friend in medical school who is currently doing an ob/ gyn rotation where seeing the ‘miracle of life’ is a daily occurrence. However, this particular conversation was different. This week a young pregnant patient of his lost her baby at the end of her second trimester. In other words, if the baby had been born s/he would have had a high chance of survival at this stage. While miscarriages occur statistically with some frequency, when it is personal, and you're dealing with people experiencing this loss first hand it is nothing but tragic. There is an association with new life of being a time of happiness and joy. But, when this expected happiness is coupled with tragedy we often find ourselves at a loss of how to react. However, what if this loss is also a miracle? What if it is in some ways ‘for the best’? What if there were abnormalities in the fetus which would have caused a life of hardship? How do we psychologically come to terms with the loss of something we never had or got to experience? How do we wrestle with this unexplainable loss? How do we as a community act in a supportive way to those who have experienced pregnancy loss? As we see in this weeks Torah portion sometimes miracles are intertwined with extremes, and result in both positive and negative outcomes. Do we then redefine the term
miracle
?

The Application:

Whether it be a miracle or a loss we turn to our community for support in times of need. We share stories, gather for meals, and remind ourselves that it is people who will always be there. In our technological age it is easy to forget that when it matters most we rely on our family, and friendships. For those experiencing a life changing moment it is imperative to be able to be embraced by a caring community. Whether you're praying for a miracle or have either experienced a health related miracle or loss, it is important to figure out ways you can ask for what you need from those around you. Additionally, while being in need may not be something currently pertinent to your life, have you thought about how to be available to those you care about who may currently or in the future face such challenging times? Do you reflect on how to be a good listener, and express appropriate empathy? As well as figuring out when to step up and lend a helping hand so that it isn’t up to one person to bear the full burden after something monumental in their lives has happened? Sometimes our cards of life are dealt and we have to figure out how we will respond to situations which may arise in our own and others’ lives. What if we were to think of how we would react to such a tragedy as if were our own, would this strengthen our ability to feel empathy. Whether it be a miracle or a loss that we will have to deal with throughout our lives it is up to us to figure out how to be grateful for what we have and how to be ready for future trials. There are different organizations who have done the work of figuring out how to help people be supportive to their friends and family in need even regarding unthinkable topics such as pregnancy loss, read resources below. Click for other related posts on loss or how to be supportive.

Take a minute to think about how fragile our lives are and what miracles you are currently praying/ hoping for. How could you be better supported? How can you better help those around you? Do those you care about know that you are there for them? Are we paying attention and remembering to be grateful for the miracles which occur in our own lives?



A Jewish response to helping clergy and community respond to pregnancy loss that hits close to home
My cousin has documented the life of her one year old Mazzy in the best blog I've ever seen- mommyshorts.com
Velveteen rabbi poems about miscarriage
Expecting Adam - A great read, a book about one womans supernatural experience when carrying a baby with down syndrome

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