Sailing Up The River Of Time: Transitioning To The New Year

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Thursday, October 6, 2016

Sailing Up The River Of Time: Transitioning To The New Year,  Jewish Week’s New Normal Blog, September 30, 2016

Rabbi Michael Levy

During the High Holiday Season (October 2-12,) we picture God as weighing the merits and misdeeds of individuals and nations on a Celestial Scale. For more than two thousand years, we have implored our Creator for mercy, even if the scale tips towards the “guilty” verdict.

Since my 1976 visit to the banks of the Mississippi, another image appears during this season: a boat sailing upstream through river locks.

How the River Locks Worked

In the sleepy town of Ottawa, Illinois, a proud Midwesterner showed me how the locks operated. A boat sailing upstream approached a steep upgrade to a higher part of the river—to steep for it to pass through unassisted.

The lock operators closed a gate ahead of the boat, preventing the “higher part” of the river from deluging the boat. The operators then closed a gate behind the boat, isolating it in a “pool”” between the river ahead and the river behind it. Then, the lock operators open the upriver gates. Water flowing in lifted the boat to the level of the river ahead, so that it could continue its journey.

A Spiritual Transition

On the river of time, we have entered what might be called “spiritual locks.” We are rising from the year 5776 behind us to the year 5777 ahead. It is a time not for continuing on our headlong journey through life, but for contemplating the direction of our journey through 5777.

My personal upriver journey involves what I call TLC


During 5776, my “truth” sometimes meant criticizing “disability villains.” They spoke on our behalf, denying us the chance to speak with our own voice to the community.

Transitioning upward from 5776 to 5777, my “truth” steers me towards the question: Am I treating others with respect and regard for their unique personalities? (As a member of a minority, the impression I make on others inevitably generalizes to their feelings about all people with disabilities.)

L—Limitation (of time)

The High Holiday liturgy reminds us that our time on earth is a gift not to be taken for granted. From this perspective, every day becomes an opportunity to advocate for my disability community or empower/guide an individual to improve his “right now” experiences.


As I read “feel-good” articles about the disabled, descriptions of disabled “supermen” and “superwomen” and accounts of employers and educators recognized for their disability inclusion efforts, I am beginning to ask myself “AS a result of these articles and descriptions, how much is life really improving for the average person with a disability?” Too often the answer is “not very much.”

I don’t have an answer to the question “What then should be done to bring about the maximum amount of positive change for the maximum number of Jews with disabilities?” As 5777 arrives, I wonder if a first step might be investigating what made it possible for some people with disabilities to achieve life goals in the areas of employment, social life, and Jewish study and worship. What we learn might change our publicity and priorities.

We Need God’s TLC—Tender Loving Care

I believe that God, our Father and King, is the Master of the spiritual “river locks” that enable us to rise above physical and spiritual obstacles on life’s upstream journey. The negative currents, sometimes originating in our own thoughts and actions, can be very strong.

May God grant all of us safe passage on our journey through 5777. Shanah Tovah U-me-Tukah—a happy sweet New Year!

Rabbi Michael Levy: As a founding member of Yad HaChazakah-The Jewish Disability Empowerment Center, Rabbi Levy strives to make the Jewish experience and Jewish texts accessible to Jews with disabilities. In lectures at Jewish camps, synagogues and educational institutions, he cites Nachshon, who according to tradition, boldly took the plunge into the Red Sea even before it miraculously parted. Rabbi Levy elaborates, “We who have disabilities should be Nachshons, boldly taking the plunge into the Jewish experience, supported by laws and lore that mandate our participation.” Rabbi Levy is currently director of Travel Training at MTA New York City Transit. He is an active member of Congregation Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, N.Y. He invites anyone who has disability-related questions to email him.

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