Respecting The Challenged

Respecting the Challenged: Dignity and Godliness in every Jew

In Parshat Kedoshim, Vayikra 19:14, we find the words “You shall not curse the deaf and you shall not place a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God- I am HaShem”. We learn from these words that God commands respect and dignity for those who are physically or developmentally challenged.

It seems that modern society is just awakening to the fact that people with disabilities should be treated with the same dignity as those who are not disabled. Judaism has known this fact all along.

Proof of the fact that all humans are equal in the eyes of God is found immediately after the account of the creation of Adam, the first human being. The Torah states in Breisheet 1:27, “God created human beings ‘Betzalmo’, In God’s image”. Each person regardless of their strengths and weaknesses is created in the image of God. The same amount of “Tzelem Elokim”, Godliness is present in all humans. The concept of Kevod HaBriyot, treating every human being with respect stems from this idea.

Many of the personalities in the Torah were faced with disabilities and challenges. In fact, even our matriarchs and patriarchs were challenged in some way. Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah and Chanah were all barren. Jacob had difficulty walking after his conflict with the angel. Miriam suffered from tzaraat (leprosy). Yitzchak suffered from blindness. Each made the best out of the circumstances and overcame the specific challenge to the best of their abilities.

When God chose Moshe to lead the Jewish people out of Egypt, Moshe responded (Shmot 4:10): “I am not a man of words…for I am heavy of mouth and heavy of speech.” God did not accept Moshe’s excuse and answered “Who makes a mouth for man or who makes one mute or deaf or sighted or blind? Is it not I, HaShem? Now go!” It is clear that Moshe’s disability would not be an impediment to his success and God proved this to him.

One of the most famous commandments concerning ethics and morality is found in Parshat Kedoshim, Vayikra 19:18 and was made popular by Rabbi Akiva, “V’Ahavta L’Reacha Kamocha”, you shall love your fellow as yourself. Chizkuni states that although it may be impossible to love another person as one loves himself, others must be treated the way that one would wish that he himself would be treated.

A new law was passed in Israel that every new building must be wheelchair accessible.  The only problem is that there are still many existing buildings whose only entrances have stairs and therefore exclude the wheelchair bound community from entering. In front of every shopping center there are spots reserved for the physically challenged. How unfortunate it is to see people who don’t have permission to use these spots taking up these spaces. I recently saw a photo in the newspaper of Israeli police car parked in a spot that is reserved for the wheelchair bound. These police officers are unfortunately not setting a good example of how to observe the mitzvah of v’ahavta lereacha kamocha.

Let’s do what we can to ensure that those who are challenged don’t have to overcome even more obstacles in Israel and throughout the world.