Written by Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner, Temple Emanu-El, Closter, New Jersey
In recognition of Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month, Rabbi Kirshner is the first contributor to our weekly D’var Torah (word of Torah) blog post, where guest bloggers will link the week’s Torah portion to the theme of inclusion.
When my children were born, they each represented perfection to me; ten fingers and ten toes, good APGAR scores and a wail that was music to my ears. However, it did not take long for the perfection to turn towards more challenging moments that took away from the perceived perfection but never diminished from my wife’s and my love for these amazing people. Whether sleepless nights, car sickness, colic, or with maturation one’s child proving to be a non-typical learner or demonstrating some physical, emotional or mental challenge, each parent quickly learns that our kids are not perfect for long. Yet, in their imperfections we still find beauty and reward.
In this week’s Torah portion of Yitro, Moses ascends Mount Sinai to receive the Torah from God and the tablets containing the Ten Commandments. For most of us who have read ahead, we know that in Parshat Ki Tissa (Ex 32:19) Moses breaks the tablets in rage and fury over the Israelites’ lack of patience and their worship of a golden calf. The Israelite people never get a chance to see the tablets whole and learn them, understand them or incorporate them into their lives. They really only know the tablets, broken.
In the world in which we live, perfection is something too many strive for in every arena possible. SAT scores, GPAs, sports, home décor, cars, clothes and technology all need to be “perfect” to be maximized. But is there really such thing as “perfect”? And, if so, how long does it last?
Judaism is a religion where we demonstrate that nothing is perfect. On Passover, we pour out from our cups so they do not overflow and we eat broken bread. On Rosh Hashanna, we hear the broken sounds of the ram’s horn. On Sukkot, we dwell in a temporary, non-sturdy hut. Most well-known, at a Jewish wedding, we conclude the ceremony with the breaking of the glass. I always tell couples who are getting married that we shatter the glass to represent that while a wedding can feel like elation and perfection, the life that follows is not. The days ahead will have brokenness within them. Our role is to take each broken piece and make a mosaic that becomes the beautiful pattern of our life.
Moses’ breaking the tablets before the laws even had the time to be a part of the Israelite nation is a lesson to our people today from our tradition that each of us is broken, un-whole and imperfect in one way or another. I cannot think of a more valuable lesson in being Jewish today.
This year, Parshat Yitro is the first Shabbat of February, which is Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month. Non-typical learners and those living with physical challenges are embodiments of the beauty of imperfections. Abraham Joshua Heschel taught that the single most important thing to know about God is not God’s perfection, but God’s care for the world. Our role in partnering with God is to ensure that all learners are a part of our shared future and through the brokeness of tablets or glass, we make a beautiful mosaic of our shared Jewish future.
Heschel and Parshat Yitro remind us that perfection does not last for long. Soon, we will all have something broken in us. It is through the broken pieces and the mosaic that we create from it, that we find our personal perfection.