Written by Rabbi Daniel Grossman, Adath Israel Congregation, Lawrenceville, NJ
In recognition of Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month, Rabbi Grossman provides this week’s D’var Torah (word of Torah), where guest bloggers link the week’s Torah portion to the theme of inclusion.
At first reading, the Torah portion Vayakhel seems far removed from any relevant connection to the special needs community. It reads like a “best of issue” of Architectural Digest. The Parsha is a detailed description of the materials and skills necessary to construct The Tabernacle. There is not much to work with until we focus our attention on Chapter 35:5. “Take from among your gifts to the Lord; Everyone whose heart so moves him shall bring them – gifts for the Lord.”
Torah teaches that everyone has something to offer to bring to the project. There are no limits, no pre-conditions of skills, nothing which would say “your efforts and your skills are not acceptable.” WE must work for a time when each person is valued for their skills and not devalued for their limitations.
Let me share a story. Each of our students in our resource program at Adath Israel, Lawrenceville, New Jersey, is encouraged to become a madrich, “class aide,” after their Bar or Bat Mitzvah. One young man loves to assist others in resource. He told me, “I don’t understand why my friends when I was small, were my friends. Then I got big but they became my babysitters. I didn’t get big smart, I guess. Anyway, now I help little kids like me. Thanks, thanks. I am useful – that’s being big.”
“Everyone whose heart so moves him shall bring them – gifts to the Lord.” It is not enough to approach a person with a special challenge and say “How can I be helpful?” We must finish this interaction by asking them “How would you like to help – what are your gifts?”
Every person I have ever worked with comes to the table with their own special gifts. Too often, those who truly want to be useful only focus on what they can provide for their students without ever considering the mitzvah and the joy their students will experience as they contribute their own gifts. Each of us must have the opportunity to bring our gifts to the building of the sanctuary of life, knowledge and Torah. We must be prepared not only to offer the gift of help but to accept the gift of help.