In recognition of Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month, Rabbi Rebecca Schoor is the third contributor to our weekly D’var Torah (word of Torah) where guest bloggers will link the week’s Torah portion to the theme of inclusion.
At my son’s orthodontist, patients who have been diligent about their dental hygiene between appointments are given a “Good Brusher” ticket which can be exchanged for all sorts of cool items.
Ben has never been a good brusher. Between his sensory issues and poor fine motor skills, Ben has always struggled with teeth-brushing. No incentive could get this kid to do what needed to get done with any consistency. Each visit, the hygienist would comment that Ben needed to do a better job of brushing. And each visit, Ben would lament that he’d never earn a “Good Brusher” ticket.
Two appointments ago, the orthodontist himself got pretty heavy-handed with him. From now on, Ben was to brush three times a day, five minutes each, or else risk permanent damage to his teeth. Something about that ultimatum sent the right message. To help Ben be successful, I taped a timer to the bathroom wall and we added teeth-brushing to his behavior chart. Within two weeks, Ben was brushing for the recommended total of fifteen minutes a day without prompting.
At the following appointment, both the hygienist and the orthodontist praised Ben for having improved. He did not, however, earn a “Good Brusher” ticket. Because even though he had made immense improvements, he still wasn’t really what one would call a good brusher. At least, not when compared to others.
This week’s Torah portion, Terumah, opens with the commandment to the Israelites concerning the building of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. Exodus 25:2 reads, “Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him.” The text then lists the numerous objects, including precious metals and dolphin skins, which will be used for the Tabernacle and its furnishings. Only then will God’s Presence dwell among the people.
Traditional Rabbinic interpreters spend a great deal of time dissecting the text and answering the obvious questions such as “how did a bunch of ragamuffin ex-slaves possess any precious metals?” and “how did anyone get his or her hands on dolphin skin while wandering in the wilderness?” The Mekhilta d’Rabi Shimon, a Halakhic midrash on the book of Exodus, for example, explains that the Israelites came by their bounty by relieving the Egyptians of gold, silver, and fine linens on their way out of town. As for the dolphin skins, according to Rabi Elai, in the name of Resh Lakish, said that Rabi Meir maintained that they were from an animal that existed at and up to the time that Moses needed the skins for the Tabernacle, and that they were providentially provided.
Beyond these literal understandings, a contemporary view might hold that these gifts are symbolic of the varied people in our communities. That to create a community where God dwells demands that we include each person. That we accept what each individual brings to our synagogue, our school, our organization and regard it as the precious gift that it is. Just as each gift was equally necessary to complete the Tabernacle and all its furnishings, so too is each person important. Not in comparison to others, but valued independently. Only then can we be sure that God will dwell among us.
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.