From The Other Side Of The Bench
By David J. Seidemann, Esq.
Who would have thought that a piece of paper three inches by three inches would change a young man’s life forever? Who would have thought that a baby three months old would change a nation’s history forever?
Face it. If you have a disability, G‑d forbid, a plethora of legislation and regulations exist to assist you in obtaining and keeping a job. Not too many job applicants would say, “Hey, disqualify me. I have a problem walking or talking.” Quite to the contrary, they would be the first to exclaim, “Hire me. You have to!” And perhaps they would be correct in such an assertion.
But, thousands of years ago, our leader Moses took the exact opposite approach. G‑d was looking for a spokesperson to approach the Israelites and the king of Egypt and deliver a message of deliverance. Moses wanted nothing of it. “Count me out,” was his reply; “I have a disability.” Today, the “Prophets With Disabilities Act” would have assured him the position. But this is now and that was then.
Moses figured that having a speech impediment would somehow dilute the message in the ears of the king and his slaves. The Children of Israel would wonder, “Is this the best G‑d could come up with? We are in the depths of the depths. We need to see a brighter future, an escape from the antithesis of self-actualization, and this is whom G‑d sends—a man who can barely speak, a man who is trapped in his own hell?”
Pharaoh would similarly think that there is no way the Jews would follow this handicapped man into the desert. Oh, they might not like it here in good old Egypt, but at least their oppressor is a man of stature and not some man who can barely string a coherent sentence together. The slaves would leave Egypt only if attracted and spellbound by the eloquent promises of a perfect man sent by the perfect Creator. If the messenger himself is flawed, then how good could the message be? And what does it say about the sender himself if He was attracting substandard help?
And let’s not forget that Moses grew up in Pharaoh’s house. Pharaoh was well aware of Moses’ acumen and talent. But the king also knew that when it comes to selling a product, even if the product is freedom, it’s all in the packaging.
Our rabbis explain that the nature of Moses’ impediment was that he could not clearly pronounce words that required bringing one’s lips together and could not clearly pronounce words that required positioning one’s tongue against the upper palate.
Now try this exercise at home. Every name of G‑d in Hebrew requires either pressing one’s upper and lower lips together or thrusting one’s tongue against the roof of one’s mouth. Try it. Elokim. Adnus. Shakai (replacing the dalet with the kuf—the “k” for the “d” sound).
All names of G‑d require lips pressed together or tongue to the palate except Eheyeh, which is the name G‑d tells Moses to use. Moses states his claim to G‑d that he can’t even pronounce the name of his boss, the Being that sent him on his mission. “They will laugh at me when I can’t pronounce the name Elokim or Adnus. How will it reflect back on You, G‑d, when I bumble Your name, the name of the power that is sending me?”
G‑d responds: There is one name of mine that does not require a pursing of the lips or an upward thrust of the tongue. There is a name of mine, says G‑d, that even you can pronounce, that even you can articulate. And so Moses’ handicap disappeared into the Egyptian night.
Everyone has the power to articulate the message in one form or another, and everyone has the ability to comprehend the message in one form or another. No one’s “disability” is so profound that they are rendered incapable of delivering or receiving the message. It’s all in the packaging, the timing, the desire.
• • •
He is married now with a wonderful wife and six children, all observant of our Torah way of life. But it wasn’t always that way. He grew up in a totally assimilated home, and his only connection to anything Jewish was that his father had a Jewish coworker. That was the beginning and end of it.
When he graduated from college in the Midwest, his father said he would pay for a two-week vacation in Israel so his son could climb Masada. That was the extent of his plans. That was the beginning and end of it.
The day before he left for Israel, his father mentioned to his Jewish coworker that his son would be leaving on a two-week vacation to Israel. The coworker took out a three-inch piece of paper from his pocket and scribbled two words on it: Meir Schuster.
“When your son is in Israel, have him stop at the Western Wall and ask around for a man named Meir Schuster. He will look after your son while he is there.”
The father gave his son the paper and the young man assumed that when his father said that “a man named Meir Schuster will take care of you,” that meant he could cancel his youth hostel reservations. He thought his father meant that he would be bunking at this man Schuster’s house.
He arrives at the Wall, which now, 20 years later, he refers to with reverence as the Kotel, asks for this Schuster man, and is directed to him. “Where are you staying?” inquires Schuster. “With you,” is the reply. “Didn’t my father tell you?”
He spent the next two weeks at Aish HaTorah and never did climb Masada. That was the beginning but surely not the end of it.
He returned to the Midwest—jeans, earrings, long hair, and all. It was a nice intellectual pursuit for two weeks. But the message got through and the intellect was followed by emotion and then more intellect. The message got past all the handicaps because someone in his hometown received a call from Rabbi Schuster to look in on this guy, and the message was delivered.
The message got through because a Jewish coworker of his father cared enough to initiate the entire process with a three-inch by three-inch crumpled piece of paper with the words “Meir Schuster” scribbled on it.
There is no messenger who can’t deliver the message in one form or another. There is no intended recipient who has a handicap so severe that he or she can’t receive it in one form or another. Two words on a crumpled piece of paper that changed a young man’s life forever. That, my friends, is the beginning and end of it. v
David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann and Mermelstein and serves as a professor of business law at Touro College. He can be reached at 718-692-1013 or firstname.lastname@example.org.