Moses: Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month


Moses is called by God to the instrumental task of being God’s mouth and instrument to redeem the Israelites from Egyptian slavery.  Called through the supernatural phenomenon of the burning bush that although burning is not consumed, Moses enters into this relationship that changes the course of the Israelites.


The slaves do not know this God.


Yet God chooses Moses.


and Moses demurs.


Because he is disabled.


Moses pleads his case to God:


“Please, O God, I have never been a man of words, either in times past or not that You have spoke to Your servant; I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”


And God said to him, “Who gives man speech?  Who makes him dumb or deaf, seeing or blind?  Is it not I, God?  Now go and I will be with you as you speak and will instruct you what to say.”


But he said, “Please, O God, make someone else Your agent.”


God becomes angry with Moses and said, “There is your brother Aaron the Levite.  He, I know, speaks readily.  Even now he is setting out to meet you, and he will be happy to see you.  You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth--I will be with you and with him as you speak, and tell both of you what to do--and he shall speak for you to the people.”


One of our greatest teachers, Moses, is portrayed at having a speech impediment.


That is not how God sees Moses.


God sees Moses as the one who will be God’s instrument to redeem the Israelites from bondage.


It takes God’s reassurance to Moses that God does not see the disability, God sees the ability.  


Throughout the redemption from Egypt and the journey through the desert, we will encounter many other times when God and Moses engage.


In Jewish tradition we are tasked with following God’s positive attributes, where those behaviors are the predicates for what we are to do.  Just as God is just, so should you be just.


So God is willing to find a solution to Moses’ protest about his speech impediment in empowering Moses’ brother, Aaron.


Moses is to become a great leader and the only one in the Torah portrayed as having known God “face to face”.  God’s example for us is to not see the disability, but to see the ability.  To focus on what is possible,not what cannot be done.


This is what Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month is all about:  seeing those who have ability issues for what is possible, not what they cannot do.


One of the blessings that is said on seeing difference is:


Blessed are you, YHVH our God, Sovereign of the World, who diversifies creation.


Why do we say such a blessing on seeing someone who is different?


Two reasons, both having to do with the nature of humans.


One, if it’s a physical or mental disability, we are quick to notice.


In our noticing, we may judge.


This blessing, this beautiful blessing, focuses us away from what may be our conditioned reaction to seeing the difference and pulling away from it.


Who diversifies creation.


Instead of pulling away, it is a blessing that allows us to transcend our initial reaction to instead reenact what God did for Moses:  drawing those who are different with us closer in.


We need it.


Our immediate reaction sometimes is unconscious, based on the visual or the visceral.  We might see another human being and only see whatever disability is made readily apparent to us, without approaching the other person as their own representation of God, being made in God’s image.


Our tradition recognizes that we humans are, well, human.


It gives us tools to deal with our humanity, both what we are as humans who react and as humans who can act.


To act toward a person living with a disability is to respect their dignity, to be welcoming and affirming, to respond to the innate humanity of the other person however they demonstrate it to us.


In so doing our relationship is dignified.  Humans coming together, seeing other humans, elevating other humans.  In being dignified what is other is not the focus; the focus is on the common humanity.


We should do as God does:  he chooses Moses who has a disability and gives him Aaron as his spokesperson.  We should be with our fellow human beings in dignity, giving to them as they in turn share their gifts with us.

© 2017- 2019

Rabbi David Novak