During the month of February (Jewish Disability Awareness Month) Matan shares a weekly d’var torah linking inclusion to the upcoming Torah portion. We say often that JDAM may only be one month, but Jewish disability inclusion needs to happen all year round. So to that end, we will be sharing such d’vrei Torah weekly beginning with Bereshit (October 10, 2015). These posts will run on Wednesdays to serve as inspiration for Shabbat sermons.
Parashat Nitzavim opens with the following words:
You stand here this day, all of you, before the Eternal your God – your tribal heads, your elders, and your officials, all the men of Israel, your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from wood chopper to waterdrawer – to enter into the covenant of the Eternal your God, which the Eternal your God is concluding with you this day, with its sanctions: to the end that God may establish you this day as His people and be your God, as was promised… (Deuteronomy 29:9-11)
It is one of my favorite pieces of text because it leaves nothing to chance. It specifies exactly who is to be included in the eternal covenant between God and the People Israel.
Why is the text so specific? Why does it not simply leave the opening verse as “You stand here this day, all of you, before the Eternal your God?” Why list the particular groups?
The answer is inclusion. The covenant here at Moab differs from the one created at Sinai (Exodus 19:9-13; 24:3,7) by being inclusive. In the Exodus passages, Moses speaks to “the people.” The text does not go into further detail regarding who comprised “the people.” In fact, it isn’t even clear whether or not women were included in the revelation at Sinai. Given the enormous significance of that moment at Sinai, however, it seems unlikely that women would have been excluded. But what about those of a lower social standing? Or minors? Or those who were not an official part of the community?
This one piece of text reminds us that a community is really a sum of its parts. Just as there cannot be a community made up solely of wood-choppers, so too can there not be a community solely comprised of tribal leaders. Every individual has a role in a community. When we honor the gifts of every individual, the community is strengthened. Any individual imperfections fall away when we regard the entire community as its own complete entity.
The opening lines of Parashat Nitzavim also reminds us that no one should ever say, “this is not my responsibility.” Rather, as the 18th century Chassidic sage, Boruch of Medzhybizh taught, everyone must do his or her share. By naming specific groups, the text emphasizes the importance of belonging. Every individual, in Biblical society, belonged somewhere– whether to a household, a clan, a tribe – and had a responsibility to the community.
When we look at our own communities, in what way are we making certain to name every group of people? Is our leadership comprised solely of the largest donors or individuals of a certain age or gender? Do we make certain that honors are given out not only to those who make large financial contributions but to those who make significant contributions of their time? If creating community is of paramount importance, what are we doing to reach out to the “water-drawer” and the “wood-chopper?” Do we provide assisted hearing devices and large-type siddurim to those whose ability to feel a sense of belonging is enhanced by such items? Are all corners of our buildings accessible to those with mobility challenges?
If we believe, as our tradition teaches, that all future generations stood together that day at Moab, then it is our obligation to make certain that the entire community is there together.
Ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr is a CLAL Rabbis Without Borders Fellow, a contributing writer at Kveller.com and The New Normal: Blogging Disability, and is the editor of the newsletter of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Her writing appears regularly on various sites including Tablet Magazine, the Jewish Daily Forward, the Huffington Post, The Jewish Week, ReformJudaism.com, and Zeh LeZeh (For One Another). Rabbi Schorr is a contributor to The Sacred Encounter: Jewish Perspectives on Sexuality (CCAR Press, April 2014), and is the co-editor of a forthcoming title on the impact of forty years of women in the rabbinate. A sought-after speaker, Rabbi Schorr has given presentations on disability and inclusion at such places as the 92ndSt. Y, the Academy for Jewish Religion (NY), a variety of synagogues and other community organizations; she was also a member of the 2012 Listen To Your Mother – Wilmington Cast, where she spoke about the reality of rearing a child on the spectrum. Writing at her blog, This Messy Life (www.rebeccaeinsteinschorr.com), Rabbi Schorr finds meaning in the sacred and not-yet-sacred intersections of daily life. Engage with her on Twitter @rebeccaschorr.