A Jewish View of Disability

"A person can look at his disability with a take-it-or-leave-it mentality," states Michael, who is vision-impaired. "You can leave it – let it run your life – or you can take it, and try to do your best with it. But insights from Torah and Chazal can teach a person to view his disability in yet another way, as part of a Divine plan, as something that Hashem has decreed as part of his neshamah"s mission on earth."

He points out that the Torah is full of people with disabilities. Both Yitzchak Avinu and Yaakov Avinu lost their sight late in their lives. The Imahos were childless for many years. David HaMelech was slight in stature, causing him to be over looked as a candidate for royalty. Moshe Rabbeinu could not speak properly; "Aharon was his augmentative speech device," Michael jokes. "None of these people were prevented from achieving unparalleled spiritual stature because of their physical challenges. On the contrary, in many cases, those who seemed unpromising turned out to be our leaders, as it says in Tehillim: "The stone the builders rejected became the cornerstone" " (a phrase the Levys worked into their wedding invitation).

Historically, Am Yisrael has been considered weak and stunted in comparison to our non-Jewish neighbors, but this has never prevented us from achieving. As the prophet Zechariah states, "Not by might and not by power, but by My Spirit alone," shall we triumph. Through connecting to Hashem, any Jew can realize his potential and make a contribution.

But it is also true that we are stronger united; kol Yisrael areivim zeh l'zeh, we are all responsible for each other. Hence the community also has its part to play. "The Rambam says that even a Jew who is not shaleim b"gufo, is obligated to learn," says Michael. "So the community has to clarify its options and its obligations. Are you going to make a special school for people with disabilities, or are you going to get them the technology they need to stay in the mainstream? Are you going to make shuls and mikvehs accessible?"

"My disability doesn't make me any more special or courageous than the readers of this article," he tells me. "Like them, my emunah comes from parents who cared about me; teachers who believed in me; the Torah which sustains us all; and the family, friends and community with which Hashem has blessed me."

"Having a disability, either since birth or acquired later, is not in and of itself a tragedy," he concludes. "It is only tragic when the disabled are not given access to developing the skills and learning to use the technology that will allow them to live free and fulfilling lives, lives in which their disability no longer defines who they really are and what they can achieve."

As told to Barbara Bensoussan by Michael Levy

This article appeared in Mishpacha magazine

This article first appeared in issue #14 of Down Syndrome Amongst Us

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