Friday, March 15, 2013
I’m left handed, my daughter Rachie has poor vision and her friend Liz is very tall. But that’s okay, because we believe in accepting and appreciating differences as well as the people who have them. These are just singular factors of our individual identities and attributes, but they do not define us. Being a left handed person who learned to write in the late 50’s in elementary school I have very clear memories of people trying to get me to write with my right hand. Both of my parents are right-handed and therefore, ACCEPTABLE as the majority position of society. Being left-handed was always considered a bit SINISTER and lefties were often thought by others to be a bit off. In Eighth Grade when I broke my LEFT arm twice, family and friends thought “Great, now for sure she will end up learning how to use her right hand (and of course, be so much more acceptable, normative and more comfortable for all).” Well, that didn’t happen, not for writing and eating and other small motor activities anyway. You see, I am not even a straight clear left-handed person, but rather I am mixed dominance (or what some people call mixed up!). That makes me defined as being really “out there.” If I were a person that wrapped Tefilin, which arm do I use for which reason? When I do shake the Lulav and Etrog on Sukkot, which do I consider myself, determining which hand I hold each item in? There are all types of problems regarding certain Mitzvot for lefties, and as far as mixed dominance people go, well, don’t ask! Then there is Rachie. She had to take her drivers’ test four times before passing, and only did that after being taught how to accommodate for particularly poor vision that renders her legally blind in one eye. So, now comes another question of Halacha. What is the legal standing of a visually impaired/blind woman (much different than Rachie’s case, but the point is still valid) in Hadlakat HaNerot, the lighting of the candles for her family for Shabbat and Yomim Tovim? So, just to let you know, I actually checked this out some years ago. One of my students asked me this question and when I went to a Rav to inquire about the answer, he did not know as well. A few weeks later, he came back to me and explained that another Rabbinic authority had JUST published a Teshuvah (Halachic position) on this very issue. The response was that out of Chesed (kindness) for the woman, she can do the Mitzvah but her family cannot have their responsibility fulfilled by her lighting candles since the required part of the Mitzvah is to see the lights. Therefore a second family member, who can see the lights, must light the candles for the rest of the family members. What this really shows is that in looking at our Mitzvot and system of Halacha, there are various considerations in responding to people who want to do various Mitzvot but might not be able to do so in a normative way, or may not have an obligation to do a particular Mitzvah due to some physical variance or feature of the individual. To be sure there are many other examples in our daily Jewish lives, such as the fact that I am not allowed to fast for medical reasons but have found an amended fast that I can use so that I can participate in that Mitzvah, By the way, the only one of our four children who has inherited my own left-handedness, at times questionable personality/genetic trait is my daughter Rachie. So the poor dear has two strikes – she is left-handed and has some thankfully corrected visual impairment. So while, we are talking about physical realities that might be less than normative or even desirable according to some, perhaps I should also point out that we are all amongst the somewhat, though not profoundly vertically challenged in my family. At 5” 2 3/4” I am the tallest woman in my generation and those that preceded me. So, when Rachie brought Liz to meet us, she warned us that Liz is quite tall. It doesn’t matter. We all got along just fine, went to shul together, celebrated Sukkot together, and had a great time. Oh, I almost forgot. Liz is Rachie’s girlfriend and they are a couple. So now, while I am accepted for holding the Lulav and Etrog in the non-normative manner, Halacha is kind to the blind woman who lights her Shabbat candles, and my need to fast is accommodated, I certainly hope that the Jewish community will be accepting and appreciate the amazing talents and contributions of these two amazing young women, as they each fulfill their own Mitzvot. May we all go forth from strength to strength and have the same compassion for each other that Halacha has shown it can exhibit for all of us.