Divrei Torah About Inclusion: Yomim Tovim

Rosh Chodesh : First mitzvah of Torah that is given to Bnei Yisroel as a nation is the law of setting Rosh Chodesh and setting up the calendar  this was given In Egypt.  It was given to all of the Jews in mitzrayim.  The Jews formulated the calendar and therefore set the control of their lives.

In the parsha this week, Korach, korach started a revolt against Moshe and the leadership in the mid bar.  He tried to set his own rules.  We learn from this that . As much as we encourage independence we still need to follow our leadership and the rules set out by the Torah.

So We need to form together to set the controls of our lives with the laws of the Torah guiding us.  This week we learn to follow the directions set out for us and not revolt as korach did while setting our personal life’s calendars as we are instructed to Do in the laws of Rosh Chodesh.

As parents of individuals with special needs we are often given many rules. As much as we must live within the constraints of these rules we want to help our children become independent and set rules for themselves.  We want them to be self reliant to the best of their abilities.  And we want them to shine At family shabbaton we work to establish our community and the Yachad family.  We help all members within the family set their rules of their needs together while establishing their own independent identity and self.


Rosh Hashanah.  The Torah tells us the story of Yitzchak going to the akeidah, the sacrifice with his father Abraham.  Yitzchak goes as a tzadick, a whole righteous person.  He went with full faith in Hashem to fulfill this commandment.   We know the story. Abraham is told to take the ram and sacrifice it instead of Yitzchak. This happened on Rosh Hashanah and is why we use the ram’s horn as our shofer.

Yitzchak is forever considered a tzadick.  He is forever whole in Hashem’s eyes, even though he is blind  as he ages.  The disability never outshines the abilities and qualities of our Avot in the Torah and in the eyes of Hashem.

We hope to remember this message on Rosh Hashanah and every day- Hashem loves each of us with our abilities and our disabilities together.  That is what makes us whole in Hashem’s eyes.  And being responsible and Accepting every person with their personal abilities and disabilities is what makes Klal Yisroel whole  in Hashem’s eyes as well.

In Parshat Nitzavim the Torah speaks of sinning and getting punished.  But the Torah then tells us that as soon as we do teshuva  Hashem forgives us and then brings back all of the brachot given to us.

Rosh Hashanah is this special time that Hashem has set aside for us to stop and do teshuvah.   We should do this every day but sometimes despite our best intentions life gets in the way.  So here we are.  Preparing to do teshuva and ask Hashem and our fellow person to forgive us any transgressions done throughout the year.  Asking our fellow person to accept us the way we are as well as us remembering to accept everyone the way they are is a key to becoming one nation in Hashem’s eyes.

As we hear the sound of the shofer in synagogue or temple remember this message.  Remember  this is the time to do teshuva. Remember this is the time to accept Hashem’s mitzvot.  And remember this is the time to accept each other the way Hashem created each of us.


As we enter the fast of Yom Kippur we are told to stop our daily routine, think about our year, and ask forgiveness from both Hashem and from our friends, neighbors, and acquaintances.

As we have been learning throughout the year we are all responsible for each other.  We all need to strive to accept each other in the way Hashem has created us. We must strive not to be judgmental, not to think we are better than our friend, not to think less of a person whether they have challenges or not.  Hashem has created each of us with challenges and with abilities.  The Torah teaches us (each week in the parsha) that we all come to Klal Yisroel with a uniqueness and that only by putting our individual uniqueness together can we form one nation, one klal.

We are all human.  We all have times that we are not perfect and may think another person is less valuable than ourselves.  Now as we enter Yom Kippur stop and ask forgiveness from someone we may have judged, thought less of, or hesitated to include in our lives.

May we all be warranted to be inscribed in the book of life, filled with Bracha.


On the holiday of Succot we are commanded to take four species and put them together when we do the mitzvah of lulav.  We take the Lulav, the Etrog, the haddassim (myrtle) and the arovot (willows). The lulav has no smell and no taste. The etrog has a smell and a taste.  The hadassim have a taste and no smell.  and the Aravot have a smell but no taste.  Each one of these species cannot stand alone to fulfill the mitzvah of the lulav and etrog on Succot.  Only when we bind them together can we fulfill the mitzvah. The rabbis teach us that each of these species represent a different type of person.  Each person brings their own uniqueness to the klal.  Each person is important to complete the mitzvot.  Only when all of the different people of Am Yisroel come together to form one nation and do the mitzvoth together can we truly form the holy people, the am kadosh.


Shabbat Chol Hamoed Succoth reading is about showing compassion for others. Moshe broke the Luchot and Hashem could have punished him for this.  Instead Hashem gives Moshe the second chance to write the second set of luchot.   Moshe returns to Har Sinai and prays to Hashem for forgiveness not only for himself but for every person in Klal Yisroel.  Hashem gives Moshe the chance to atone for the sins and Moshe and the rest of Bnei Yisroel are forgiven.  The quality of Hashem’s compassion is clearly seen here. But it is not enough for just Hashem to be compassionate.  In the reading we are told not to cook a kid goat in it’s mother’s milk.  This is the basis for not mixing milk and meat together.  But more than that it is the lesson of showing compassion to even animals not to hurt the mother by killing its child in front of it.   If we can be compassionate to animals how much more so than to other people, our  friends, our peers, our neighbors, and all members of our community.  Hashem gives us so many chances to atone for our sins and to show compassion for others.   Sunday is Hoshana Rabbah, the last day in this holiday season to ask forgiveness from Hashem and from our friends.  One way to do this by including everyone equally in Klal Yisroel.  Think about this over Shabbat as we prepare for the end of the chagim and celebrate with everyone, B’Yachad.


We are starting the celebration of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah tonight.  In Israel both holidays are celebrated together for one day and outside of Israel we celebrate two days.

What is the purpose of Shemini Atzeret? The rabbis tell us the parable of a King inviting his children to a Feast for seven days.  During these seven days the children and parent enjoy their time together and re-form their bond of closeness.  As the children are getting ready to leave the king, their father, turns to them and says “wait, don’t rush out.  We are having such an amazing time together.  Please stay one more day!”

This is the message of Shemini Atzeret.  The Jewish people have been celebrating and thanking Hashem for the past seven days.  They are ready to go home.  But Hashem turns to them and says “wait.   Stay with me one more day”.

We are also thanking Hashem for forgiving us and giving us the Torah on Simchat Torah.  We spend the day rejoicing and dancing together and celebrating Hashem’s Chesed. In Israel this happens on one day and outside of Israel we celebrate this on two separate days.

The king invites all of his children to remain for the extra day.  Hashem celebrates with all of Klal Yisroel on Simchat Torah.  As we enter into these next holidays we must remember to include everyone in our celebrations.  Dance with the ones who are not as able as you might be.  We all can celebrate, we all can praise Hashem, and we all can join together as one Klal Yisroel on this Yom Tov  and throughout the year, b’yachad.


Tonight we light the first light commemorating the miracle of Chanukah.  What was this miracle or miracles?  We all learn  that the miracle of Chanukah was that after the war with the Assyrians the Jews came back to the Beit Hamikdash, cleaned it and went to light the menorah.    They found one small pitcher of oil that should have lasted 1 day but lasted 8 days until the new oil could be brought to yerushalayim.

But there is more to the miracle in the story of Chanukah.   The Jews, led by the Maccabim, were few in number while the Assyrian’s army was huge.   They are described as weak and fought against the strong Assyrian army.  By all rights the Assyrians should have been victorious but Hashem caused the miracle of Chanukah and the Jews won.

Hashem sees strength in the kavanah, the intention of the Jewish people.  Their intention was to do mitzvot, despite the enormous power trying to stop them.

As we look at the people we deal with each day we need to look beyond within each person and at the intention of their actions.     We should look at what’s inside, the inner strengths, and see this quality that is most important.  Every individual has a quality like this, even though it is sometimes hard to recognize.  Like the miracle of Chanukah we need to look inside every person, big or small, strong or weak, and recognize the strength that makes them unique, special in Hashem’s eyes.  This is the true miracle of Chanukah- recognizing that even the weak or small are important and necessary to form a complete Klal Yisroel, b’yachad.


The tenth day of the Hebrew month of Tevet is observed as a day of sorrow and fasting for Jews.  It is the day that Jerusalem was surrounded by the Babylonians and the siege of the city began.  The city suffered, with the Jewish people starving, until the month of Tamuz when the walls were broken through.  Three weeks later on Tisha Bav the first Beit Hakidash, temple, was destroyed.

What led up to the siege of Jerusalem and the consequent results? The nation of Israel was divided, there were two kingdoms, and the people were fighting amongst themselves. There was no Achdut, unity.

What is our lesson today?  I think it is clearly the importance of accepting everyone and working together to form a united Klal Yisroel.  Only by being one nation, despite any differences that we may have, will we be able to be whole in Hashem’s eyes.  This lesson is not just for Biblical days.  By fasting and remembering this tzom, and the others on the Jewish calendar each year, we are reminded to care about each other, accept each other, and form one nation, b’yachad.


As we look at the story of Purim Haman tells the king that he wants to destroy the Jewish people because they are “different״. Simply because of their differences. But  HaShem did not allow Haman to destroy these “different Jews”. He brought messengers, Esther and Mordechai, to help save them and lead the people, Jews and Persians. We all have differences, some are challenging, and some not so challenging. It is what sets us apart.  But recognizing and seeing the value of these differences is what makes us a Jewish nation.  In Shushan, Haman wanted to use the differences against us.  We use these differences to embrace everyone we come into contact with and find value in each individual.


This week we read a special haftorah for the week before the new month of Nissan. It is Parshat Hachodesh (new month) and talks about the Jews responsibility to direct the calendar. We need to ask why HaShem made this commandment- surely with all of the miracles of HaShem He could have created the calendar for us. But HaShem gave us the responsibility to teach us that just listening to the Torah is not the same as doing the mitzvoth for yourself. We are commanded to physically do the mitzvoth. And not rely on others. When we look at our Jewish community we need to teach all of our children how to do mitzvoth, those who are “able” and those who are “disabled.” All of us must do what ever mitzvoth we are capable of doing to the best of our ability. Take this message back to your schools and synagogues and temples as we prepare for Nissan and Pesach.


This week is designated as Shabbat Hagadol, the big Shabbat. It takes place each year on the Shabbat immediately before Pesach, Passover. On this week we read a special haftorah, additional reading after the Torah. It is from the Navi of Malachi. In the reading we are told that a true and successful Navi is one who listens to the words and message from Moshe rabbeynu, Moses. But wait, didn’t Moshe rabbeynu have a speech impediment, therefore a disability. One could think that HaShem would choose a “whole person” to lead the children of Israel not some who is disabled. But indeed HaShem shows that he values every human, disabled or a led. He sees the potential and talent of every person regardless of that person’s challenge. As we enjoy Shabbat and prepare for the holiday of Pesach let us remember to value every person just as HaShem does.


As we prepare for the holiday of Pesach and the Seder, we can look into the Haggadah and clearly see the message of inclusion.  When we read the paragraph of the four sons, we see that each son is labeled, not always in a positive note.  The Haggadah teaches us to address each child in a different manner, according to that child’s strength.  Even with  the son who cannot speak, we are told to open his mouth and help him learn to speak.  As a child I learned that the use of the word, “at” in Hebrew means from aleph to taf.  We included the whole alphabet to teach the children.  Indeed we should try to teach each child the Torah and include them in our Seder and in our community.

Let us take this message from the Haggadah and integrate it throughout the year and our lives.  Not stereotyping but truly accepting each person as they are and including every person in Klal Yisroel.


Shissel Challah- As we prepare for Shabbat, I wanted to talk about the custom of baking a key into your challah or shaping your challah like a key.  The Shabbat immediately following Pesach is called Shissel Challah week.  We use the symbol of a key to remember to ask Hashem for success in business and making a living for our families.

But let’s look further into the idea of the key.  A key opens doors, opens opportunities, opens possibilities.  On this Shabbat let’s think about all of the doors that we can and should open for every member of our community, regardless of abilities or disabilities.  Let’s take our “keys” and open the Torah to our friends and peers.   And let’s use the key to open our hearts to every person we come into contact with and greet them as we would want to be greeted.  This is the time we count the Omer and prepare for the holiday of Shavuot when we received the Torah from Hashem.  How better to prepare for Matan Torah then to be accepting all individuals as equals.


We celebrate the yom tov of Shavuot this week.  We have been counting from Pesach until Shavuot to show our excitement upon getting the Torah and to give us time to prepare for Matan Torah.  We don’t just group the days together and say we have 7 weeks.  We count each day separately to show how each day leading up to Matan Torah is important and must be used to ready ourselves.  Only when the days are complete and we can look at how each day contributed to our preparation are we then ready to fulfill the mitzvoth of Shavuot.  We too need to count each individual and their accomplishments.  Only then can we complete Klal Yisroel as a whole.