Divrei Torah About Inclusion: Sefer Shemot
Parshat Shmot starts with Miriam and Yocheved watching over baby Moshe as he floats down the Nile and is found by the daughter of Paroah. Later in the parsha we see Moshe leaving the palace of Paroah, risking his life, and protecting the Jewish slave who is being beaten. Moshe then runs away and is confronted by the sneh, the burning bush, where Hashem speaks to him and commands him to go to Paroah and lead the Jews out of mitzrayim. Moshe hesitates to do this and in fact says to Hashem that he cannot be a leader since his speech is poor.
The theme of taking care of each other, no matter what the difficulty is clearly seen throughout this parsha. Yocheved and Miriam were saving not just one baby but they took responsibility of protecting the future of Klal Yisroel. They worked as midwives saving the Jewish babies born despite Paroah’s decree to kill Jewish baby boys. Moshe, despite being brought up in the palace with all of its luxuries, goes out and takes the responsibility of protecting the Jewish slaves from harm and pain. Moshe, Miriam, and Yocheved put their own lives at risk in order to protect those who cannot protect themselves.
And at the burning bush Hashem gives Moshe an even greater responsibility, that of saving the entire nation of Israel. When Moshe says he cannot do this because of his speech, Hashem answers with the following statement “who is it who makes a person clear of speech or lame in speech, hearing or deaf, seeing or blind, but I myself Hashem.” Hashem clearly teaches Moshe that he is the power that creates people how they are and cherishes all people. It is Hashem who decides what a person can do or not do, Hashem gives each of us our abilities and our disabilities. And it is Hashem who sees the value in each of us and guides us on our journey through life. Let us learn from this parsha’s lessons to take responsibility, watch over and protect each other, and remember that Hashem creates each of us the way he feels is correct and gives each of us our purpose and place in the world.
In this week’s parsha, Parshat Va-ereh, Moshe goes In front of Pharaoh to ask him to release Bnei Yisroel from their slavery in Mitzrayim. He does not go alone. We have learned previously that he has trouble speaking and Hashem sent Aron to help him speak. Aron is his “mouth piece”, his assistant, his advocate. He stands in front of Pharaoh and speaks Hashem’s words that Moshe is not able to say for himself. We can say that Aron is the first “shadow” in the Torah. Both Moshe and Aron play key roles in taking the Jews out of Egypt, working together, through the help of Hashem.
But We can learn more from this. We all need assistance in our lives at certain times. We cannot always speak for ourselves. Whether we have disabilities or abilities we need to remember that it is ok to ask for help from someone else. And anyone can be this assistant, whether they are abled or disabled. We all have some reason why we are not perfect and can use help from another person. What this parsha teaches us is the value of being both the assistant and the assisted. Moshe (the assisted) and Aron (the assistant) worked together with Hashem to bring the Jews from slavery. We need to remember to always work together, not be afraid to ask for help, and b’yachad lead Bnei Yisroel into becoming a complete Klal Yisroel.
In Parshat Bo we learn about the last days that Bnei Yisroel are in Mitzrayim. We will focus on two important pieces of this narrative as we discuss inclusion this week. The first is that Bnei Yisroel are commanded to declare that a new moon has risen. This is the start of the month of Nisan, the month of our redemption. It is the first mitzvah given to Bnei Yisroel as a nation. It is the mitzvah that recognizes the Jews as one people, working together, to the goal of leaving Egypt and declaring Hashem as the one true G-d. This is an event that forms them into a Community of Jews. The second piece in the parsha is that Bnei Yisroel are commanded to take the Korban Pesach, the sacrifice of the lamb for Pesach. Here each family individually was told to make a korban Pesach. The people were commanded to eat the meat at night but finish it before midnight. However the Torah continues and says that if the korban would be too big for the family they should join together with another family-working together to complete Hashem’s mitzvah. So Bnei Yisroel are shown two aspects of their identity as the nation of Hashem. One is their community responsibility (the new moon) and the other is their family responsibility(the korban Pesach). But even as individual families Bnei Yisroel are instructed not to forget the greater community and work together to complete Hashem’s will. We can learn from this parsha the importance of both the community and the individual. But sometimes the individual cannot work alone and therefore needs to ask help and work together with others. Only by working together do we truly become a Klal Yisroel, able to fulfill Hashem’s mitzvot. As we enter Shabbat enjoy the individual time with your family but remember to look further out to the Klal, the community, and welcome all individuals into your home. Working B’Yachad on this mission will help us stay the true Klal Yisroel in Hashem’s eyes.
Parshat BShalach starts with Bnei Yisroel’s journey from Egypt into the desert. We read about how Bnei Yisroel face many challenges as they leave Mitzrayim. They lack food, water, and need help to guide them on their way. And then they get to the yam soof, the sea that they need to cross. All this while the mitzrim are chasing them. Couldn’t Hashem have just performed one miracle to help Bnei Yisroel overcome these challenges? Hashem helped Bnei Yisroel face each challenge by helping them to help themselves. When they ask for water, Moshe is told to go out and strike the well to make the water sweet; when they want food, they need to go out and collect it themselves, and when they get to the yam soof, Moshe puts his staff upon the water but it splits when just one person leads the way and goes into it. The message is that we need to take the first step and only then will Hashem help us overcome our challlenges.
We can learn from this parsha that we all face many challenges in our lives. Some are more visible challenges then others but we need to face them and ask Hashem to help us overcome them. We need to remember that Hashem has given us a community that is there to assist each other and help each of us be part of Klal Yisroel. The Torah says that Hashem led Bnei Yisroel with a cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night so that they would not loose their way in the desert. We need to help each other find our present day cloud and pillar of fire to guide us as we overcome daily challenges that we face. Only by doing this together, b’yachad, can we truly unite, like the Jews leaving Mitzrayim and become a strong Klal Yisroel.
Finally at the end of the parsha, Bnei Yisroel are faced with the challenge of the nation of Amalek. Amalek goes to war against them. Hashem tells Moshe to gather an army to fight. Moshe asks for help to lift his arms as Bnei Yisroel fight. When Moshe lifts his hands up Bnei Yisroel win the fight, if he lowers his hands, Bnei Yisroel start to loose. He asks for help to support his arms in order to keep them raised. The mifarshim tell us that this act of lifting his arms was really to help Bnei Yisroel recognize the presence of Hashem. When Moshe’s arms were raised Bnei Yisroel looked towards the heavens and remembered that Hashem was there to help them. But Moshe could not do it alone and needed to have assistance.
We too need to remember that all that we do, every strength that we have, every challenge that we overcome, is because of Hashem and his love for us. By working together, seeing Hashem as the guide and protector of our individual and collective lives, can we stay a strong community today. Let us always seek Hashem’s bracha as we work b’yachad to be a united Klal Yisroel.
In Parshat Yitro we find many references that can be related to inclusion. When Moshe meets his father-in-law Yitro, Yitro strongly encourages Moshe to ask for help when ruling Bnei Yisroel. Yitro tells Moshe not to be afraid of asking for help- no one can do everything alone. Then we read about Matan Torah. Hashem gives the Torah to all of the Jewish people, not just the “abled” ones. In fact Hashem presents the giving of the Torah in a multi-sensory manner- thunder, lightning, speech, writing. Hashem includes all of Klal Yisroel in the manner that they can understand. All of Bnei Yisroel stand together at the mountain to receive the Torah. But when Hashem chooses Har Sinai we are taught that the mountain was humble. Hashem chose Moshe Rabbeynu as our leader who is also described as humble- in fact Moshe was the humblest of all people according to the Torah and Mount Sinai was the humblest of all of the mountains. The other attribute that we find in the parsha is one of modesty. Moshe is commanded to build a ramp up to the alter. This is to show respect and modesty towards the mizbayash, really an inanimate object.
We can learn from these parts of the parsha that Hashem values humility and modesty in all of his people. Modesty and humility are more important than any challenges or talents that we may have- and we all have both challenges and abilities. Hashem values every person, and seeks to communicate with them according to their way- in the manner that they can understand. And we should never be afraid to ask another for help. If Moshe Rabbeynu can ask for assistance then we should be able to ask as well. By asking for assistance, showing humility and modesty towards others, and understanding that each person needs to be addressed in the manner that they understand, will we be able to build a strong Klal Yisroel and be the Am Kadosh to Hashem, B’yachad.
Parshat Mishpatim speaks about the laws HaShem establishes between man and man. These laws are for everyone, no one is excluded. These are laws of morality and how to treat each other and are given to all of Klal Yisroel. Not just the able and fit. People need to be judged fairly and equally. But HaShem also discusses the stranger among you. He cautions us not to view them as less fortunate but as equals. We can learn from this Hashem’s vision of all people. He includes all people, even those who we may perceive as not fitting in- those who may be seen as different. This is the lesson to take away from Parshat Mishpatim. To treat everyone the same as each other. To not assume that if someone looks or acts differently, that they are not accepted in HaShem’s eyes. In fact, HaShem cautions us to guard and accept these people despite their differences.
Parshat Terumah is about building the Mishkan. The parochet is the curtatin that hangs between the kodesh and the kodesh kedoshim. It consists of intertrwining of all types of threads. Not just gold threads, not just silver threads. But many different types. Even the forbidden shatnez, wool and linen. This can symbolize to us how HaShem loves all things, not just the things that we this of as “the best.” We can learn this as a lesson of how to treat other people. We must weave all of Klal Yisroel unified together in serving HaShem. Not just the fancy ones or the desirable one. ALL people into our lives in all aspects of our lives, B’Yachad.
In Parshat Tetzaveh, we learn about the Cohen’s clothing. The Cohen Hagadol is given the Choshen, the breastplate to wear on his chest. The choshen is made up of 12 stones. Each stone rpresetns one of the 12 tribes of Yisroel. The choshen did not work unless all of the stones were complete and worked together. They needed to be united in order for Hashem’s message to be delivered correctly. As well, the Cohen Godel wears a Tzitz on his head. This was the golden head plate that is tied around his head. Again, it is not simply placed on his head like a crown, but it is tied together. We can look at both of these garments and learn from them about inclusion. We need to accept all of Klal Yisroel and unite and work as one (like the stones in the choshen) in order for us to serve HaShem correctly and receive HaShem’s brachot. Likewise we need to tie all of Klal Yisroel together and form one unit no matter wh each person is, no matter their abilities or disabilities.
In this week’s parsha Ki Tisa, we learn about second chances. While Moshe rabbeynu is getting the first set of luchot, the people of Israel are complaining to Aharon and build the Egel hazahav, the golden calf. Hashem is angry but after much beseeching from Moshe HaShem says he will give Bnei Yisroel another chance and not destroy them. Moshe is then instructed to return to har Sinai and writes the luchot again .
Hashem is willing to not group everyone together but to see each person as an individual and accepts the atonement of the individual. We need to learn this lesson and take each person we meet as an individual and give them as many chances that they need to complete their task. Remember this as we think of all of the individuals that we meet regardless of any challenges they have. By allowing them to keep trying we allow them to complete their task and become equals to each of us.
This week we end the reading of Sefer Shmot with Parshat Vayakhel-Pikudei. In this week’s parshiot we learn how Moshe assembled Bnei Yisroel and asks them to give materials for the building of The mishkan, the tabernacle. Everyone in Bnei Yisroel gives, men and women. (This differs from Chet Haegel when only the men give items). We learn that HaShem appreciated gifts from each person, no matter how small or how large. Each was valued by HaShem and each person was valued by HaShem. We also need to look at each person and value each of their gifts. It is not for us to put a value on their worth- all are precious in Hashem’s eyes and therefore should be in our eyes.