Why Talk about Disability Rights on Passover?
Moses is never mentioned in the Passover Haggadah. At first glance, it’s a little strange that Moses’s name or involvement in the Exodus is never discussed in the Passover Haggadah. I was taught that there is no mention of Moses for two reasons: (1) Because at our Seder, we want to remember the miracles performed by God and that God was ultimately responsible for our redemption and; (2) Because we are supposed to imagine ourselves as having gone out of Egypt and using Moses’ name places the Exodus at a certain point in history. Whatever the reason, it’s an interesting omission to think about as we prepare for Passover.
Moses is an integral figure to our Jewish identity—he led the Jewish people out of Egypt and watched them enter the Promised Land; he went up to Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments and is one of the only people to meet God panim el panim, face to face. I am always struck by the description of Moses as someone with a speech impediment. When God comes to Moses and tells him to go speak to Pharaoh and tell him to set the Jewish people free, Moses answers by saying: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites from Egypt? I am slow of speech and I am slow of tongue” (Exodus 4:9-10).
I try to imagine what our history would have looked like if the conversation between Moses and God had gone differently, if God has accepted Moses’ limitations rather than instructed him to go to Pharaoh with his brother Aaron at his side. What if God had allowed Moses’ disability to overshadow his capabilities? We can no more imagine our history without Moses’ leadership than we can imagine our Seder without maztah.
Today, there are 650 million people worldwide living with a disability, some ten percent of the world’s population. As we sit down with our family and friends this Passover, let us think about people with disabilities throughout the world. In July 2009, the United States signed but did not ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The Convention is based on the ideals of the Americans with Disabilities Act, intended to empower persons with disabilities to be independent and productive citizens. The CRPD has been voted on once before in the U.S. Senate, but has yet to be ratified.
Every voice deserves to be heard; let your Senators hear your voice on this issue—tell them we must support people with disabilities worldwide and ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities now.
As we retell the story of the exodus from Egypt and reflect upon the contributions made by Moses to our history, we must also remember the millions of people living with a disability around the world today and let the Passover story inspire all of us to build an inclusive world where everyone’s abilities and talents are celebrated.