Friday, 12 May, 2017 - 12:16 pm

No dictionary has ever been able to satisfactorily define the difference between "complete" and "finished." However, during a recent linguistic conference, held in London, England, and attended by some of the best linguists in the world, Samsundar Balgobin, a Guyanese linguist, was the presenter when he was asked to make that very distinction.

The question put to him by a colleague in the erudite audience was this: “Some say there is no difference between ‘complete’ and ‘finished.’ 

Please explain the difference in a way that is easy to understand.”

Mr. Balgobin’s response: “When you marry the right woman, you are ‘complete.’  If you marry the wrong woman, you are ‘finished.’ 

And, if the right one catches you with the wrong one, you are "completely finished". His answer received a five minute standing ovation.

This week's Torah portion, Emor, speaks about the commandments barring Priests with physical disabilities from performing services in the Temple. Is this not deeply disturbing? The first document in history to protest discrimination against the disabled was the Torah.

When Genesis declared that people were created in the image of the Divine, it clearly included every person, regardless of physical state, color, or race. In Jewish law, there is absolutely no distinction between murdering a perfectly healthy, strong human and a bed-ridden cripple. The dignity of life is unwavering and beyond utilitarian purpose.

The USA finally made the ADA—Americans with Disabilities Act—in 1990, making it illegal to discriminate against someone due to a disability. How, then, does the Torah—the first champion of such an idea—legislate such a law? How can the Torah contradict itself blatantly, claiming that the most blemished and most perfect bodies are equal in G-d's eyes, yet not allow the crippled Kohen (Priest) to work in the Holy Temple?

The key is in how we understand the law. The crippled Kohen was not excluded from serving in the Holy Temple. Rather, he was summoned and chosen to serve elsewhere.

Steve Jobs, founder and chairman of Apple, never knew his parents. His father left his mother when she became pregnant. In early 1955, Steve’s biological mother, Joanne, traveled to San Francisco and was helped by a kind doctor who sheltered unwed mothers, delivered their babies, and quietly arranged closed adoptions. Steve was adopted by Paul and Clara Jobs.

Once, when he was seven, he was chatting to the girl who lived across the street about his adoption. “So does that mean your real parents didn’t want you?” the girl asked. “Lightning bolts went off in my head,” related Jobs. “I remember running into the house, crying.” Jobs wanted to know if it was true that his biological parents had cast him away.

Jobs related: “And my parents said, ‘No, you have to understand.’ They were very serious and looked me straight in the eye. They said, ‘We specifically picked you out.’ Both of my parents said that and repeated it slowly for me. And they put an emphasis on every word in that sentence.” Their response changed his life.

He could have viewed his life in two ways—as the child abandoned by his parents, or the child chosen by another mom and dad. Whatever his choice would have determined the caliber of his life. Thank goodness, his parents said the right thing—and Steve Jobs changed the world.

The same holds true in our case. In Judaism, perfection is never attributed to a particular place, person or thing. There is no “perfect model” in Judaism. Perfection is doing what G-d wants you to do; being the way G-d wants you to be; living the life G-d wants you to live.

Worshipping, or paying special tribute, to a “perfect model” is a subtle form of idol worship. That’s why Moses smashed the Tablets. He understood that the Jewish people were accustomed to idolatry and hence attributed holiness to holy things, people, and places. Moses smashed the holiest item in the world—the Tablets—to teach them that there is only one barometer for perfection: What G-d wants and where He wants you to be. Nothing else.

The third Chabad Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, offers a deeply moving insight.

All the Kohanim were chosen by G-d to serve as His spiritual ambassadors to the rest of the Jewish people. They bless us, and they teach us. Some work inside the holiest places, and others—including those with physical blemishes—work in the outer parts.

There are two types of Jews—those who make it to the Temple and those who do not. This is true both geographically and existentially. There are souls who manage to climb the mountain of holiness and become absorbed in the sacred glow of the Temple; but there are others who, for whatever reason, remain remote. They are unmoved and uninspired.

They may be spiritually disabled or underdeveloped; they may be full of doubt, pain, cynicism, and uncertainty. G-d chose certain souls who are deeply sensitive to all forms of handicaps in life to reach these people—because they themselves never develop a delusional veneer of perfection. These are the Kohanim who are physically handicapped. Their souls are as perfect as they come, and due to their struggling bodies—they are the special people chosen as G-d’s ambassadors to bring light, hope and healing to those souls that experience themselves as outcasts, far removed from the Holy Temple.

In a religion that decides what perfection is based on social convention, the handicapped Kohen is seen as mistreated. But in a world where G-d's will defines perfection, not social dogma and status, the handicapped Kohen sings a song that in many ways is so much deeper than doing the service in G-d's home. It is he who turns the blemishes of life into a home for G-d.

This type of Kohen cannot serve G-d inside the cocoon of holiness. He must always stay in-tune with what is happening “outside,” in the remote places. He must be out there, in the jungle of life, in battered places and hearts, bringing the light into places of brokenness.

55 years ago, in Winchester, Massachusetts, Rick Hoyt was strangled by the umbilical cord during birth, leaving him brain-damaged and unable to control his limbs. "He'll be a vegetable for life," doctors told his parents, Judy and Dick Hoyt, when Rick was nine months old. "Put him in an institution."

But the Hoyts noticed how Rick's eyes followed them around. They raised him at home. When Rick was 11 they took him to the engineering department at Tufts University and asked if there was anything to help the boy communicate. "No way, there's nothing going on in his brain."

"Tell him a joke," Dick countered. They did. Rick laughed. Turns out a lot was going on in his brain. Rigged up with a computer that allowed him to control the cursor by touching a switch with the side of his head, Rick was finally able to communicate. His first words were, "Go Bruins!"

After a high-school classmate was paralyzed in an accident and the school organized a charity run for him, Rick pecked out, "Dad, I want to do that."

Dick, who never ran more than a mile at a time, could not imagine pushing his son five miles! Still, he tried. "Then it was me who was handicapped," Dick says. "I was sore for two weeks." That day changed Rick's life. "Dad," he typed, "when we were running, it felt like I wasn't disabled anymore!"

That sentence changed Dick's life. He became obsessed with giving Rick that feeling as often as he could. He got into such great shape that he and Rick were ready to try the Boston Marathon.

In 2005, at ages 65 and 43, Dick and Rick finished their 24th Boston Marathon, in 5,083rd place out of more than 20,000 starters. Their best time was 2 hours, 40 minutes in 1992—only 35 minutes off the world record, which, in case you don't keep track of these things, is held by a guy who was not pushing another man in a wheelchair at the time.

Dick got something else out of all this too. A number of years ago he had a mild heart attack during a race. Doctors found that one of his arteries was 95% clogged. "If you hadn't been in such great shape," one doctor told him, "you probably would have died 15 years ago."

So, in a way, Dick and Rick saved each other's life.

“When we were running, it felt like I wasn't disabled anymore!" This is the uniqueness of a father who could have just allowed his son to be who he was. But he went out of his comfort zone and brought out the miraculous in his crippled son.

Each of us is capable of that perfection. Each of us can do something to give dignity to a shattered heart, hope to a broken spirit, comfort to a challenged soul, love to an impoverished person.

Each of us is, in some ways, the “blemished Kohen.” We are all challenged; we all have our hardships and disabilities. We are all Kohanim-ambassadors of G-d. Thus, we ought to see our own handicaps as a summons to be particularly sensitive to those who are lacking in life. If I were perfect, how could I shed a tear for the broken vessels? How could I emphasize with them? And when we do that, we encounter perfection—real perfection, G-d’s perfection.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky


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