Last week was the 17th of Tamuz – a day of fasting, commemorating, amongst other things, Moshe Rabeinu breaking the tablets (Aseret Hadibrot). As such, I find any event connecting us to learning Torah, very appropriately scheduled.
1. In London I participated and spoke at the end of Siyum in “Side by Side” school, a special needs school and integrated nursery which provides a unique educational environment. An amazing institution for children with learning disabilities. Frankly, I did not expect the children to be tested in any serious way for their achievements. I was going to say a few nice and easy Divrei Torah, and encourage the dedicated educators, parents and children to continue with their holy mission.To my greatest surprise, I was informed by the teachers that we could ask the children in each class questions about the material they have learned – and expect good answers. What transpired was for me – a great educational lesson! Children who seemed to be extremely disabled – were yet able to explain to me things I did not know about the words Shema Israel. Amazing. But the most emotional moment came, when a nine year old boy, whose intellectual disability is so severe that he cannot yet speak at all, was asked – “How many walls does the Sukkah have? Unable to speak, he replied by indicating four fingers. Then he was asked “With how many walls is the Sukkah Kosher”? So he indicated again, this time by showing us only three fingers. With both replies being correct, everyone in the room was clapping loudly. The youngster was smiling broadly. I had tears in my eyes.
2. Then I participated at a light “weekday Kiddush” after Maariv, as we all broke the fast. One of the members came over to me and asked me to congratulate his 14 year old son – (in private) – for spending the (very long, English) afternoon, while fasting – to learn the whole Talmud Tractate of Makkot, from start to end. Makkot: “Lashes” is a tractate in Seder Nezikin(“Order of Damages”) that serves as a companion tractate to Sanhedrin. Well, to do this in one afternoon, while fasting, is a formidable task, even for a seasoned adult Rabbi… I was amazed by the will power of this young Talmid Chacham, i.e., this Torah scholar.
Thinking about the two events. I am sure that both have great significance up there! As it says רחמנא ליבא בעי or – “G-d requires one’s heart” (Sanhedrin 106).
Perhaps, the boy able to communicate only with his fingers has done even more, who knows.
Rabbi Chaim Michael Biberfeld