Is disability a distinctly Jewish issue?
Of course not. Disability affects all races, religions and creeds. So why is February called Jewish Disability Awareness Month?
While I cannot speak for the organizers, I can present a few thoughts on the matter.
Because disability is a G-dly issue, Judaism brings to it unique perspectives that flow from a fundamental question: Why would G-d create humans with an overt deficiency, with an impediment that creates pain, misunderstanding and barriers to succeed?
While we can’t intellectually justify these realities, since we can’t fathom the mind of our Creator, we certainly are called upon to work through them – and foster greater connection and goodness through them.
Let’s take a look at a disability clearly stated in the Torah that afflicted the greatest Jewish leader of all time: Moses.
At the revelation on Mount Sinai, Moses relayed to the Jewish people, and by extension, to all of humanity, a code of conduct to make this world a dwelling place for G-d’s presence, thereby fulfilling the essence and purpose of creation.
This revelation was the most important event in the history of the world. And the delivery of this message was transmitted via the mouth of Moses.
Yet, Moses had a serious speech impediment. In fact, it was so severe that he was not able to speak to Pharaoh directly lest he be misunderstood. Moses needed his brother, Aharon, to speak for him (see Exodus 6:12).
So it is instructive that despite Moses’ speech impediment he spoke the words that laid the foundation for humanity’s most spiritual mission and service.
What is the underlying meaning of this?
That the teachings of Judaism contain a dichotomy. On the one hand, materialism is greatly valued. Nature and physical beauty are G-d’s intentional design to be embraced as a vehicle to serve G-d.
Yet, at the same time, nature’s awesome force, with all its intricacies, is only a mask that hides the true reality of existence. G-d.
Only within nature can we serve G-d, but to be defined only by nature’s reality is actually to limit the true possibility of our relationship with G-d.
So each disability is a vulnerability within creation that calls on us to perceive a higher level of reality that is simply not defined by the world’s perception of perfection.
A disability is not a deficiency in value. On the contrary, it allows the most transcendent and spiritual signal to pierce through the veneer.
And the cost to gain this awareness is merely to pay attention.
When we encounter an individual with exceptionalities and make the effort to relate and communicate, we can achieve an uplifting connection that inspires us to reach ever greater heights. That is the opportunity we try to give every Friendship Circle teenage friend.
Countless stories have been shared by teenagers who have paid attention to children with disabilities and have, in return, become inspired to live a more meaningful life as a result.
Rabbi Yossi Marozov is executive co-director of Friendship Circle of Cleveland in Pepper Pike.