Sunday, April 19, 2009

Slow of Speech and of a Slow Tongue

So, as I related in my last blog post, yesterday was my daughter's Bat Mitzvah at Congregation Adas Emuno, and it all went exceedingly well. She read and sang several prayers together with our spiritual leader, Cantor Kerith Shapiro, who was very much committed to religious inclusion. The service was simplified and abbreviated, and quite beautiful, and there were many members of the local autism community present, including Sarah's teachers and classmates, as well as members of our congregation.

My son read some prayers for her as well, and I did the Torah reading for her. And then I gave a short speech on her behalf. So, I thought I would share some of my remarks with you here:

The Torah portion that I just read from, Parshat Shemini, tells us how Aaron, the brother of Moses, became the first Priest of God's sanctuary. But the partnership between Aaron and Moses began much earlier, at the time that Moses encountered the burning bush, and God commanded Moses to tell Pharaoh to "let my people go." You see, Moses was a reluctant prophet, and he told God, "I am not a man of words…, for I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue." And we can understand this to mean that Moses, who in our tradition was the greatest prophet there ever was, Moses, the prince of Egypt, Moses the redeemer, Moses the lawgiver, that Moses was a man who had a disability.

Moses was slow of speech, and of a slow tongue, and so God told him that his big brother Aaron would go with him, and that Aaron would be his spokesman, and speak his words for him. And so it was, with the help and support of his family, and his community, that Moses was able to accomplish great deeds, despite his disability.

And so it is today that Sarah becomes Bat Mitzvah, which means Daughter of the Commandments, the very same commandments that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai, the very same commandments that Moses then gave to Aaron for safekeeping. And Sarah becomes a Daughter of the Commandments with the help and support of her family and community.
At this point, I proceed to thank everyone who made this day possible, and I'll leave that part out. After finishing up the acknowledgments, I ended with the following:

We will now present Sarah with her very own prayer shawl, as a Daughter of the Commandments. This tallit has been waiting to be worn for over a half a century. Sarah's grandmother, Betty Strate, gave it to me for Sarah to use, explaining that when I was born, my father, whom Benjamin is named after, brought it home for me to wear on my Bar Mitzvah. But before my Bar Mitzvah, I was given a beautiful new tallit from Israel, and so this little shawl was put away for many, many decades. It is now my pleasure to make it available to Cantor Shapiro to present to my daughter, Sarah.

And from there, the service continued to its conclusion, followed by a wonderful celebration. And later, after it was all over, I was moved to write a poem, related to the speech I gave, which I posted on MySpace, and which I also want to share with you here.


Written for my daughter on the occasion of her Bat Mitzvah, April 18, 2009

I am not a man of words
No I am not
For I am slow of speech
I am slow
And of a slow tongue
I am slow
I am
The words will not come
The words will not stay
My voice will not carry
I am not a man of words
I am not
Not a man
Of words
I am slow
Slow of speech
And of a slow tongue
Tied into knots
I cannot speak well
I am not eloquent
I cannot find the words
I am not understood
I am slow
I am slow
So how can I speak
How can I speak
How can I speak to the god-king?
When I am of a slow tongue
And I am slow of speech
And I am not a man of words
How can I do anything
When I am slow?

Your brother will go with you
He will go
Go with you
Your brother will go with you
To see the god-king
Your brother will help you
He will help
Will help you
Your brother will help you
So you won't be alone
And he will speak your words
Yes he will speak
Speak your words
The words you cannot
He will be your tongue
When you are slow
He will be your voice
When you are silent
He will speak for you
And you won't be alone
And together you will make miracles
Where apart there are none
Together in words
And together in acts
We will make miracles
When apart there were none

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