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Solutions With a Soul

Solutions With a Soul

Parshat Shemot


The greatest champions of moral progress always seem to possess silken tongues. They make their case with perfectly chosen words, and can mold public opinion by the sheer power of their eloquence. But the first defender ofEvery human being has incalculable worth human freedom, the first to denounce the subjugation of an entire nation, had “sealed lips.”1

As a child in the court of Pharaoh, Moses often reached for Pharaoh’s crown. Concerned that this behavior spoke to a dangerous ambition, his advisors conceived of a test of the child’s intentions. A bowl of glowing coals was placed next to a bowl filled with gold. If he reached for the gold it would confirm the boy’s appreciation for power and fame, if he chose the coal, he was just another child. Moses started for the gold, but an angel redirected his hand to the coal. He promptly placed it in his mouth, burning his tongue and imparting him with a lifelong speech impediment.2

Eighty years later, Moses stood before a blazing bush and received G‑d’s command to take His people from the Egyptian slavery. Though the scars on his tongue had faded, they remained on his mind.

"I beseech You, O L‑rd. I have never been a man of words, neither in times past or now that You have spoken to Your servant; for I am heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue.3"

This is an impasse. G‑d has searched His nation and found one man whose moral caliber, humility, and love qualifies him to bring G‑d’s message of freedom to the world. But he is incapable of the most elementary tenet of representation—speech.

The idea of inclusion is familiar enough: every human being has incalculable worth; differences in ability are superimposed upon our innate humanity. So, it is incumbent upon us to afford everyone the opportunity to exercise their unique iteration of qualities. The obstacles ordained by nature are to be circumvented to allow that expression.

But the call to inclusion is more poignant than ramps and education. It asks that our solutions be infused with sensitivity and respect. A practical salve can be made that lacks the imagination of another’s dignity.Moses did not ask to be the recipient of a miracle We are charged to cater to the person, with his particular reality in mind. The environment is malleable, the circumstances can be altered—not the individual. If a ramp to the bimah is unavailable for some reason, bring the ceremony to him—we serve people, not limited architecture.

Could G‑d have miraculously altered Moses’s tongue, alleviating him of his handicap and granting him the confidence to speak before Pharaoh? Of course. But Moses did not ask to be the recipient of miracle.

It is worth recalling what inspired G‑d to choose Moses as His people’s leader. A lamb under his care had strayed, and Moses went in search of his lost charge.4 This uncompromising attention to the individual is what earned him G‑d’s affections. Moses was the leader with that evasive quality—awareness of everyone’s varied realities.

Moses did not seek a miracle, a distraction from his true predicament. He dug his heels into the reality he occupied, and presented himself to G‑d. I am heavy of mouth and tongue. Perhaps, he speaks on behalf of every man or woman who possesses a disability. “These are facts; we have everything to give—if society can learn to move past nature’s constraints and facilitate our abilities.”

So, what did G‑d do? “I will be with your mouth, and I will instruct you what you shall say.5” The classic 13th century commentator, Nachmanides, explains it like this. G‑d promised to craft a message for Moses with words that he can articulate.6 He recognized Moses’ potential, saw his limitation, and adapted His own divine script to equip Moses with words he is comfortable with. G‑d alters theG‑d alters circumstances, not the individual circumstance, not the individual.

In our quest to include every member of our communities, we would do well to pay attention to this ancient example of accommodation. If we can learn to change our surroundings in accord with those who are constrained by unrelenting forces, we may empower the redeemer of a nation—we may discover our next great moral advocate.

Shemot Rabbah, 1:26.
Shemot Rabbah, 2:3.
Commentary of Ramban to Exodus 4:10.
This article was produced in partnership by the Ruderman Chabad Inclusion Initiative (RCII) and the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute (JLI).
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Chana California January 11, 2018

Great article. Kind of puts into perspective modern day politics too. Lol. Eloquent speech can be persavive, which challenges us to use our brain and do some research instead of letting feel good, and emotional moments sway us. As far as the Torah puts it Moses and Aaron's speech was straight forward - Let Hashem's people go! Every year we read this ancient account of our relationship with Hashem. Every day we have an opportunity to live out our deliverance with our choices. Good or not so good. Great time to remember what our covenant with Our King can bring forth in our life. This story never gets old. Reply

James Queens January 19, 2017

Thank you What a wonderful reminder that with compassion and understanding we can be the cause that enables others to be placed in the right circumstances so that they can grow and prosper. Reply