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Supporting People of all Abilities

02/02/2023 01:40:49 PM


The story of the Israelites’ freedom from the Egyptians is an emotional rollercoaster. It starts off bleak with slavery, but then a baby boy is whisked off to freedom in the Nile and there is a tinge of hope. But that new hope runs out as this boy (now man) runs away. Yet incidentally, this man (Moses) discovers God in the wilderness and is sent back to free the slaves, ushering a new wave of optimism. He makes his demands of Pharaoh, and every time it seems Pharaoh will say yes, he instead says no, until the final plague when Pharaoh insists the Israelites go for good. But the emotional roller-coaster continues as he changes his mind (again) and sends his armies to trap the Israelites at the sea. There the Israelites narrowly escape, the Egyptians drown, the Israelites subsequently rejoice, only to realize they have limited provisions in the wilderness. God provides miracles for food and water and finally the rollercoaster seems to be coming back to the station. Surprise! A new foreign nation, Amalek, comes and attacks the Israelites. The Israelites prevail but now instead of the Egyptians, we now have the Amalekites; a new arch-nemesis. And thus, the Torah portion of Beshalach ends.

Our tradition teaches that not only did Amalek attack these newly redeemed slaves who were very transient and unsettled, but Amalek attacked unprovoked and from the rear of the camp. Later, in Deuteronomy, the Torah will recall “Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt—how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear (Deuteronomy 25:17-18). Our Sages teach that these stragglers were the ones who couldn’t keep up. They were people with different abilities who marched at a slower speed. Thus, when Amalek attacked, it wasn’t just evil because it was unprovoked, but it was also evil because they took advantage of those who were disadvantaged by the situation. Because of this immorality of Amalek, the nation becomes notorious in our Bible as the antithesis of the Jewish endeavor. In other words, Amalek might take advantage of those with disabilities, but the Jewish people do not. 

Yet, one might ask why were there stragglers in the rear? Why didn’t the Israelites set a pace and create a society that provided more opportunities to integrate people with different abilities in all aspects of their society? I imagine that the Israelites were so caught up with slavery, and freedom, with the splitting sea, and shortages of food and water, they hadn’t yet got around to supporting those in their camp with different abilities. And unfortunately, their neglect opens the doors to tragedy. 

As we enter February, the Jewish community celebrates Jewish Disability Awareness Acceptance and Inclusion Month (JDAAIM). This month is dedicated to reflecting on our own communities and showing our support and care for those with different abilities. Standing in opposition to Amalek, JDAAIM is about creating equity in our communities, bringing awareness to the needs of our friends and families, and celebrating all the different abilities amongst the people around us. Unlike the Israelites who allowed for stragglers to occupy the rear, JDAAIM is a call to action, insisting that we can and must do better. We are better than Amalek, and our values necessitate that we are responsible for everyone around us. B’nai Torah is proud to support people of all abilities, and we are dedicated to continuing to serve ALL members of our community.

Shabbat Shalom

Sat, May 25 2024 17 Iyyar 5784