It’s that time of year. We are reading those majestic, central portions of the Torah when the Jewish people stand at Sinai. Moses is on the mountain receiving the Tablets, the Torah, instruction, law … receiving it all.
And he’s supposed to communicate it to us.
There’s just one thing: It’s a subject that people hardly think about because none of us were there to actually hear Moses speak – we just read his words, or we hear them chanted with what appears to be effortless fluency.
But had you been there, had you actually heard Moses say it all … what would that have been like?
Remember: not only was Moses no orator, he actually had a speech impediment. Moses described his own challenges this way: “I am not a man of words, nor have I ever been … I am of a heavy mouth and a heavy tongue.”
We do not know the precise nature of his condition. All we know is that Moses was sufficiently troubled by his disability that he viewed it as a disqualifying feature that would ensure that he would never be the one to lead the Israelites.
God saw it differently.
As far as God was concerned, Moses’ disability was no issue. In fact, not only was it no issue, but it seems that God deliberately chose an individual with a disability to lead the Jewish people through the most climactic moments of Jewish history.
Think about that. God could have chosen anybody. And if communicating God’s Torah was at the top of the job description, wouldn’t a silver-tongued speaker have made most sense? Apparently not. Knowing all the alternative candidates on offer, God chose Moses as his communicator – a man whose speech did not make for easy listening and may have even been challenging to grasp.
Why? Why choose a man with a speech disability for the most important communications role ever? Perhaps there is a valuable lesson here. So often, those with disabilities have to work far harder than most to be understood and appreciated. Isn’t it reasonable that the community should work harder to understand and appreciate them?
So Moses is a little tough to understand? Shema Yisrael! Listen up, Israel…. Those with disabilities regularly have to “go the extra mile” to be heard and to be comprehended. Maybe one of the messages of Moses’ life is that the community needs to play its part by stretching further to hear and comprehend them.
Every other ancient people was led by a shining hero who was depicted as the model of human perfection. Not we Jews. We were led by God’s chosen leader – a person who had a disability that he couldn’t hide. It is a remarkable statement about Judaism that Moses was God’s choice. It is also a significant reminder to each of us about the importance of “going the extra mile” towards those with disabilities in our own day.
This piece was written in celebration of Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance & Inclusion Month and Jewish Disability Advocacy Month. Learn more at jewishpgh.org/jdaim.