Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sukkot and Special Needs

We have just completed the cathartic process of atonement, which some say began at the beginning of the month of Elul (a month before Rosh Hashanah), and some even begin earlier, on Tish'a B'Av.  According to the Jewish calendar, the next holiday is already upon us just 4 days later.  This is the fall harvest holiday, Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles).  Quickly, we must put up the transient shelter symbolizing the tents of the Hebrews during the Exodus.  We collect branches for the ephemeral roof, and coach our children in the making of paper chains for decoration. 

We make do with the barest of shelters, and we celebrate the abundance of divine provision.

We build a tiny hut, and we invite guests to join us and crowd in every day for a week.

What an appropriate metaphor for recognizing the value in every individual, no matter how inadequate they seem!  Here is this grossly deficient structure, which utterly fails to protect us from the elements, and we choose it specifically to celebrate, not only with our own family, but to share with others, flaunting it, glorifying in it!  The Sukkah has a value beyond its exterior form. So, too, we are challenged to see people with disabilities, not by the external limitations of their physical form, but by the spiritual meaning of their humanity.

Just in case we fail to take in this message, tradition hits us over the head with it.

One of the main observances of the holiday is the taking of  "The 4 Species" a.k.a. "Lulav and Etrog". These are a citron, a date palm frond, a willow twig and a myrtle bough.

They are held together and shaken up, down, and to the 4 compass points, demonstrating the everpresence of G*d. There are many interpretations of the symbolism of these plants, but the most common is this:

Perhaps the best known is that there are four types of Jews: the etrog, which possesses both taste and fragrance symbolizes those who possess both learning and good deeds. The palm branches possess taste but no fragrance, symbolizing those who possess learning but do not perform good deeds. The myrtle is the inverse of the palm, possessing no taste but having a pleasant fragrance; this is likened to those who are not learned but do good deeds. Finally, the willow has neither taste nor fragrance, symbolizing those who possess neither learning nor good deeds. We, of course, wish to be the etrog, possessing both learning and good deeds. But the reality of life is that our communities are made of all four types of people and because community is such a high priority in Judaism, we bind all four species together, as we ought to bring together all Jews in one community.
In other words, the worth of a person is not defined by their intellectual ability (learning) nor by their physical ability (good deeds).  We are commanded to bring all people in our community together, in our frail symbol of abundance, and point to all directions, showing that our relationship to G*d is not limited by the external manifestation of our physical bodies or material circumstances.

Chag Same'ach!  (Happy holiday!)

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