Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah–Vayeitzei

When I lead diversity training seminars, I begin by drawing a set of stairs on a chalk/dry erase board. In return, I usually get a bunch of quizzical looks. I then explain that a set of stairs is the single most discriminatory invention ever brought to civilization. I do not care what color, race, religion, gender, orientation, or national origin one might be. The inability to get from the bottom of the stairs to the top prohibits one from being able to participate in whatever happens up top. The discrimination against those with disabilities is so often overlooked, even by those dedicated in the fight against bigotry.

This week is Human Rights Shabbat, a Sabbath dedicated to calling our attention to those parts of society who get overlooked; whose very human dignity gets ignored. We speak out on matters involving race, gender, and religion. What about disability? Yes, there are laws protecting people with disabilities. We are better at accommodating people with physical disabilities. What about emotional and spiritual ailments? Depression is a disability. Post-traumatic stress is a disability. How do we account for the attention we should pay to the many people amongst us (sometimes even ourselves) who suffer these maladies in silence?

Our Torah portion screams at us to pay attention. We follow Jacob’s journey to the point where he meets Rachel and falls I love. He seeks her hand in marriage, but her father (Lavan) sees that he has no wealth with which to care for Rachel in marriage and obligates Jacob to work for him for seven years to amass enough wealth that a father can feel comfortable letting his daughter go. Seven years pass. Lavan puts together a huge wedding, and the ceremony is lovely. Everyone celebrates until the moment that Jacob realizes (we won’t debate why it took so long) that Lavan switched the brides. Jacob married Rachel’s older sister Leah instead. Rachel was beautiful.

The text tells us “V’einei Leah racot.” Leah’s eyes were weak. The same verse then announces, “but Rachel “Ha-y’tah yafat to-ar, v’ifat mar-eh.” Rachel had beautiful features and a beautiful complexion. Some will translate the first part that Leah was difficult to the eyes. No matter, either way, Torah makes it clear that Leah’s attractiveness pales in comparison to her sister’s. She could not find a husband but through trickery. We will further read that she knows how unloved she is, yet is forced to stay in a horrible marriage. She has children, praying that giving strapping sons will make Jacob show any appreciation to his wife … and he never does. The pathos is unbearable, and whatever the physical disability is that the text veils, the emotional crisis under which Leah lives should make us scream on her behalf. Torah even teaches that one is not allowed to favor the loved wife over the unloved wife, and yet, Jacob does just that, with Leah’s father’s blessing.

We need to pay attention. There are no first or second class people. We have to acknowledge that despite the reality that Jacob favored Rachel, our spiritual inheritance descends from Judah, Leah’s son. There are no first or second class people. Everyone has blessings to share. Our job is to pay attention and provide opportunities through which each can accomplish sharing this gift. On this Human Rights Shabbat … on every Shabbat, let’s guarantee these blessings for each other! Shabbat Shalom.