Accessible Words of Torah – Parashat Ekev

By Rabbi Elisa Koppel
In Dvar Torah

At some point, I came to realize that while only some have the ability to stand, all have the capacity to rise; Matan

I went to services with a group one Shabbat this summer, at a place where none of us were accustomed to going. Where we were or what we were doing together this summer are for other blog posts; the important detail is that we were all noticing things about the service that were different to us—and we all enjoyed this diversity of experience. I am fairly certain that several of us came away from the service with ideas that we want to bring back to our own communities.

One thing that one person noticed was that when it was time for the congregation to stand up, the Rabbi invited, “All who are able to please rise.” My friend, who had never heard such an invitation, appreciated this phrasing, as it recognized that not everyone has the ability to stand up. In the conversation, and since, I’ve reflected on my own practice.

For a time, I used that same phrasing, or a version of it, but it never really felt like it fit for me. It felt awkward in my mouth. Yet I didn’t want to just say, “Please rise,” because once it came to my attention that it was a phrase that separated part of the community, I didn’t want to say that either.

At the same time, though, inviting those who are able seemed separating, as well. It seemed as if I was only inviting some of the congregation to fully participate in the next part of our service. This was pointed out to me at some point in time by someone in a wheelchair, actually—that they felt that they were disinvited from participating at that moment in the worship. In an effort to be inclusive, perhaps we created a solution which was also exclusive. Over time, I tried several variations on the phrase; none of them seemed to fit perfectly. I often defaulted to, “All who are able,” as it seemed better to acknowledge that there are those in the community that cannot stand up, then to pretend that they don’t exist.

I can’t remember what inspired me or how I came up with it, but one Friday night, as we reached the Amidah, the following came out of my mouth, “Whether spiritually or physically, I invite you to rise.” And immediately, it felt right. A number of people, both those who struggle with mobility and those who do not, commented how much they liked that phrase after the service and over the weeks that followed. I finally found myself able to articulate why the phrase fit.

At some point, I came to realize that while only some have the ability to stand, all have the capacity to rise. Our spirits rise, our souls rise, we hope that our prayers rise. Our standing up is really just a symbol of that. And so, I created a way to invite everyone to rise, while acknowledging that we do so in different ways.

In Ekev, this week’s Torah portion, we read, “And teach them to your children—reciting them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 11:19)  Just as it is equally as important for those who have children as it is for those who do not, as we all teach others and are parts of communities that include children; just as this is equally as important for those who are not able to leave home, as all people have moments of leaving one frame of mind and entering another; this is also true for those who are not able to physically rise. These words of Torah are accessible for all to learn and all to teach. It is our blessing to be able to create moments through which all are welcome to access these words.

Rabbi Elisa-Koppel-150x150Elisa Koppel is the Director of Lifelong Learning at Congregation Beth Emeth in Wilmington,DE. She is passionate about education, formal and informal, for individuals of all ages and from diverse backgrounds. She enjoys crosswords, social networking, reading or watching or listening to anything well written, and a host of generally geeky things. She works hard to integrate the personal and professional in all aspects of life and sometimes blogs about that and other matters at Off the REKord.