Parashat Yitro 5781 / פרשת יִתְרוֹ
It gives me great pleasure to share the devar torah with which that my colleague, Rabbi Lauren Tuchman, opened this year’s Jewish Disability Advocacy Month on Wednesday, February 3, 2021. Her words so aptly connect this week’s Torah portion to the issues we’ll be discussing as Jewish community throughout North America throughout February that I asked Rabbi Tuchman if I could share them in this space. I thank Rabbi Tuchman, the first blind female rabbi in the United States, for permitting to do so.
On her webpage, Rabbi Tuchman offers the following biography:
Rabbi Tuchman is a sought after speaker, spiritual leader and educator. Ordained by The Jewish Theological Seminary in 2018, she has taught at numerous synagogues and other Jewish venues throughout North America and was named to the Jewish Week’s 36 under 36 for her innovative leadership concerning inclusion of Jews with disabilities in all aspects of Jewish life. In 2017, she delivered an ELI Talk entitled We All Were At Sinai: The Transformative Power of Inclusive Torah. She has trained and continues to teach with Rabbi David Jaffe and the Inside Out Wisdom and Action Project, which provides a space for Jewish spiritual and contemplative practice for social justice activists. She is a participant of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality’s Clergy Leadership Program. She serves on the board of JOIN for Justice, which trains Jews in community organizing for social change. In 2020, she was honored by the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA).
I encourage you to learn more about Rabbi Tuchman’s personal website at https://rabbituchman.com/.
Enjoy her teaching!
I would like to begin by first thanking The Jewish Federations of North America for your kind invitation to speak tonight. It is an honor and a privilege to be with you all as we begin our month-long observance of Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month, of which our celebration tonight of Jewish Disability Advocacy Month is an integral component.In our Torah portion this week, Parashat Yitro, we encounter one of the most fundamental events in Jewish collective and historical consciousness—the revelation of Torah on Mt. Sinai. Our tradition teaches that this foundational event in our founding as a nation was at once a collective and an individual experience. We experienced revelation with all of our senses, all gathered, as one at Sinai.
We also each experienced the revelation, as we learn in a Midrash, in a way that we each, individually could comprehend. Put another way, the Torah has seventy faces, seventy, here, being a stand-in for infinite. Just as we all were together as one people to receive Torah, we each were able to receive this collective gift and blessing in a way that was comprehensible to us.
Our tradition understands that we are stronger when our differences are lifted up and celebrated as ways of being human that are and have always been with us. This past year has caused so much to be revealed that had been concealed before for so many, including the reality that stigma, discrimination and fear of disability communities and experiences is still very much a part of the fabric of society.
This Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month, let us take our tradition’s at-once-radical-and-challenging call to heart. Revelation included all of us, in all of the varied ways in which we were able to receive Torah. So, too, do we know intrinsically that we are stronger when the richness of the tapestry of our lives and experiences are able to find their home in our communities.
And as we work tirelessly for advocacy priorities through Jewish Disability Advocacy Month, may we be strengthened and inspired in our efforts by our tradition’s insistence that all life is precious. May our work move us even closer to a society and world that allows all of us to thrive.