Is good - good enough? That’s my question when it comes to the state of inclusion for people with special needs.
This week's Torah portion Shelach highlights what I think are 2 of the biggest barriers to changing the situation - fear and groupthink. Both of these cloud our judgement of what is possible.
The Jewish people are encamped on the borders of Israel and are preparing to enter the land, finally fulfilling G-d's long-standing promise to them and their ancestors. Moses sends a delegation of the nation's best and brightest - the 12 leaders of their respective tribes - to scout out the land of Israel and to report back on their findings. Of the 12 "spies", 10 return with a catastrophically negative report. While acknowledging the beauty of the land and its fertile richness, they spoke of walled cities and giants who inhabited the country. They said the land would be impossible to conquer and settle.
Only 2 of the spies had positive reports. Fear and groupthink clouded their judgement. As a result the Bnei Yisrael had to wander the desert for another 40 years to be free of fear and have faith.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l explains that fear leads to Seeing What Isn’t There. We need to see the world as it is, not as we are afraid it might. The spies feared the walled cities and said they were impossible to conquer without considering what if they live in fortified cities because they weak and insecure instead of strong?
We all live in a world there are many walls that stand before us. The walls of those who fear difference and the unknown, or are simply too afraid or do not have the strength to open their doors to everyone.
Rabbi Sacks explains that the Jewish task is not to fear the real world and its walls, but to transcend them, to enter and transform it, healing some of its wounds and bringing light to places often shrouded in darkness.
The way to change groupthink is instead of being influenced and swayed by others, we can do the influencing. We can proactively use its power to change the world around us for the better. Instead of being led, we can lead.
(written and published in New York City before Shabbat on Friday 24th of June, 2022)