Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Kavanah Ki Tetze

Our congregation has recently started a new practice.  The Saturday morning service typically begins with psalms and other liturgical songs, continues with a recitation of the Amidah, then chanting the week's portion from the Torah, a second recitation of the Amidah (called a Mussaf, or additional, and representing the additional sacrifice offered in the old Temple days), and some closing prayers.  Our rabbis decided that it would be good to include a transition between the Torah reading and the Mussaf which would set us up spiritually for it.  They called this transitional segment a "Kavanah", or intention.  Today, I volunteered to do this segment, and used it as an opportunity to promote the cause of special needs orphans:


Good morning, and Shabbat Shalom!

Today's reading covers a variety of topics on the maintenance of a civil society.  Concepts of both justice and charity are given concrete examples.  As we read the Mussaf Amidah, I invite you to read each section as likewise pointing to specific ways in which we are invited to be a "Goy Kadosh" -- a holy community, acting in G*d's image.

For example, as we read Gevurot:

You are mighty forever, Adonai; You revive the dead; You are powerful to save.  You sustain the living with loving kindness, revive the dead with great mercy, support the falling, heal the sick, release the captive, and fulfill Your trust to those who sleep in the dust. Who is like You, mighty One! And who can be compared to You, King, who brings death and restores life, and causes deliverance to spring forth!

"Gevurot" is from the same root as "Gibor" - "Hero" as well as "Gever" - "Man".  This section not only describes G*d, but lists the attributes of a heroic man (or woman!) -- a "Mensch".  It is not surprising, then, that reviving the dead is mentioned several times -- saving a life is the act most closely associated with heroism.  But being a mensch means more than just saving the day in a moment of crisis.

First, there is "sustaining the living with loving kindness".  We support and nurture our families. Let us take on doing so lovingly, not grudgingly.
Then, we say in one breath: "supporting the falling, healing the sick, and  releasing the captive".   These are aspects of Hesed and Tikkun Olam that we must seek out, get out of our own lives and help others in distress.  Who in the community - and in the world at large - needs our help?
Finally "fulfilling one's trust to those who sleep in the dust".  In other words, keeping one's word even when no-one's watching.  Even to the dead, much more so to those still living.

This section was the inspiration for the name of my initiative "Matir Asurim".  Children with special needs in developing countries are frequently neglected and malnourished, and their life expectancy is in the teens.  But worst of all, is that they are typically kept imprisoned in so-called "institutions", with no possibility of taking action to improve their own lot.  They depend on us to revive them, release them from their captivity, heal them, support them, and sustain them.  That can be overwhelming for a single "hero", but we have a whole community of "mensches" here, and I think we can take this on, as we aspire to be a "Goy kadosh".

Let me conclude with Psalm 82, which takes this idea to a the level of a personal challenge:
1. A song of Asaph. G*d stands in the congregation of G*d; in the midst of the judges He will judge.
2. How long will you judge unjustly and favor the wicked forever?
3. Judge the poor and orphan; justify the humble and the impoverished.
4. Release the poor and the needy; save [them] from the hands of [the] wicked.
5. They did not know and they do not understand [that] they will walk in darkness; all the foundations of the earth will totter.
6. I said, "You are angelic creatures, and all of you are angels of the Most High."
7. Indeed, as man, you will die, and as one of the princes, you will fall.
8. Arise, O G*d, judge the earth, for You inherit all the nations.

We are able to reach the heights of angels, in spite of our failings and our mortality.  Let us take on the Mussaf Amidah as appeals, not to G*d, but to the divine spark within each one of us. "You are angelic creatures, and all of you are angels of the Most High".

Thank you.


  1. For what it's worth -- when our two little ones were not making too much of a ruckus for me to hear, I was greatly moved by the passion my lovely wife brought to her kavanah. So were several other people; quite a few came up to her afterwards to congratulate her, and ask about getting involved!

  2. Oh my gosh, this is awesome! Can I please share it with my congregation?

  3. Thanks! I would be honored! Is your congregation supportive?

  4. We have a focus area each year and 5773 will be children in need--be they orphans, children with disabilities, children in disadvantaged situations, or simply children who need friends and community.

  5. OMG! So your congregation was doing this before I started talking to my congregation about it? Could we connect and become sister communities? Wouldn't that be amazing to reinforce each other's efforts and initiatives? Share our successes and support each other in our struggles? This could be HUGE!

  6. Well, did you share it? How did it go?


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