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Inclusiveness at the Foot of Sinai

Rabbi Avi Weiss

Rabbi Avi Weiss

The Torah tells us that at the moment of revelation all the Jews at Sinai were able to see (Exodus 20:15). Is it possible that of the several million there was not one single person who was blind?

Here Rashi states that in fact a miracle occurred. In his words, “there was not among them a single blind person.” Rashi additionally points out that in fact not one Jew was mute or deaf. After all, the Torah states “and all the people answered” (Exodus 19:8) and that the Jews declared “we will do and hear” (Exodus 24:7).

The full text of the Torah actually reads “and all the people saw the voices.” It is certainly possible to see images, but is it possible to see voices? He suggests the power of the people to see was so profound that it went beyond the usual. In his words, “they saw that which should be able to heard, which is impossible to see at any other place.” In other words, at Revelation the moment was so powerful that they saw what is normally heard. Their vision was so powerful that they even saw voices.

Another thought comes to mind that differs from Rashi’s suggestion. Perhaps at Revelation there were those among our people who were not in perfect physical shape. There may indeed have been some who could not hear. However, the text may be suggesting that even the hearing-impaired were able to overcome this limitation by a greater ability to see. This may be the meaning of seeing voices. Unable to hear, they compensated with their ability to see. Similarly, there may have been those who couldn’t speak or who couldn’t see but were able to somehow, with Gods help, make up for this limitation at this most amazing moment in history.

The idea that those who are handicapped have a place in Judaism is fundamental to Torah. Some of our greatest leaders struggled with limitations. Yitzchak couldn’t see; Yaakov was lame for a period of time and Moshe suffered from a severe speaking handicap. Despite these difficulties, they rose to unbelievable heights.

Which is the greater miracle at the time of Revelation? On the one hand, it certainly reflects God’s intervention if all people, even those who couldn’t see, were given sight at that moment. On the other hand, Revelation, which embraces even those with limitations, makes an extraordinary statement. It teaches us that just as everyone was welcome at Sinai, so too must we do everything in our power to see to it that everyone in our community is embraced.

In the end, the test of our community is the way it reaches out to the most vulnerable – from the forgotten to those who are often cast aside to those with physical or emotional or learning disabilities. “And they saw the voices” reminds us that all Jews, even the most vulnerable, stood at the foot at the most holy space of all.

About the Author: Rabbi Avi Weiss is founding president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and senior rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. His memoir of the Soviet Jewry movement, “Open Up the Iron Door,” was recently published by Toby Press.


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