Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Haftorah Beam - Pekudei (Sheqalim)

This is once again a special Shabbat (Shabbat Shequalim), coming as it does 2 weeks before Purim, the time of the Biblical census.  Each individual, regardless of circumstance, had to pay the same half Sheqel to be counted in the census.  The haftorah portion discusses disbursement of the census revenue, and the need to avoid fraud by the Temple priests.

Taxes and fraud... It seems some things never change....

Monday, February 24, 2014

Haftorah Beam - VaYakhel

Last year, this parsha was part of a double-parsha reading, but this year it was read on its own.  The Torah reading concerns the building of the Tabernacle, and the haftorah reading echoes this with instructions for building the Temple in Jerusalem.

This is one of the haftarot where Sephardim and Ashkenazim read slightly different selections: I Kings 7:13-26 vs I Kings 7:40-50.  The Ashkenazi reading concludes the building, while the Sephardi reading describes the dimensions of the major elements.  The reading begins:
13 King Solomon sent for Hiram and brought him down from Tyre. 14 He was the son of a widow of the tribe of Naphtali, and his father had been a Tyrian, a coppersmith. He was endowed with skill, ability, and talent for executing all work in bronze. He came to King Solomon and executed all his work.
The great artist of this mammoth endeavor, brought especially for this project, was an orphan and a foreigner.  Nonetheless, he was singled out for his extraordinary metalworking skill.  Interestingly, his father had been a coppersmith, yet Hiram found his talents in bronze, showing that he had not merely mastered what he had been taught, but was able to extend his skills in new areas.

After the dimensions of the columns and their capitals are given, the columns themselves are named:
21 He set up the columns at the portico of the great hall; he set up one column on the right and named it Jachin, and he set up the other column on the left and named it Boaz. 22 Upon the top of the columns there was a lily design. Thus the work of the columns was completed.
That is strange!  Why would columns require names?   And what is their significance?

This is the entrance to the great hall of the Temple.  This is the place where people come for connection with the divine and with each other.  Where they come for help and for repentance.  They look up at the entrance, at the columns to the right and left. The names of the columns direct the worshippers in orienting their Kavannah (intention) with respect to their petitions: Yachin (יָכִין) "He will prepare" reminds them to make proper preparations, and Boaz (בֹּעַז) "With courage" inspires them to go forth courageously.  It is the balance between these two -- the portal between preparation and courage -- that leads to the Holy Sanctuary.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Haftorah Beam - Ki Tissa

This haftorah has a clear connection to the Torah portion -- in both readings, the People of Israel have failed in their faith, falling to idol-worship, and need to be dramatically set back on the right path.  The Torah portion recounts the incident of the Golden Calf, while the Haftorah portion shows Elijah challenging the priests of Baal to a "sacrifice contest".

Interestingly enough, in the Torah portion, no "proof" was necessary.  As soon as Moses returned from the mountain, the people were shamed into repentance.  In the Haftorah reading, however, the people had been worshiping idols for so long that they no longer revered the Jewish prophets, and a dramatic presentation was necessary to shake them up.

So often today, we require such dramatic presentations in order to make a change in our lives.  If only we were able to appreciate a "prophetic presence" for what it is and respond correctly when we stray.

Haftorah Beam - Tetzaveh

Missed it last week, so it'll be a quick "catch-up".  Last year, this parsha came just before Purim, making it a special haftorah for the holiday.  This year, it is the regular haftorah, which parallels the Torah reading of specifications for the Holy Sanctuary (Tabernacle vs. Temple).  It has been noted that the measurements indicated in this reading contradict those in other parts of the Bible.  This discrepancy caused some distress for rabbinic commentators.  Was this, in fact, a true prophecy?

It occurred to me that the way I'd like to think about it is that the people needed a blueprint for the new Temple, a vision of what was to come.  This blueprint evolved, so that the final product was different.  Nonetheless, the inaccurate blueprint served as scaffolding and inspiration for the grand project that was before them.  This seems to me a lesson in how to embark on a large, overwhelming project:  Have a plan, and try to make it reasonably detailed.  Try to account for a wide range of parameters and circumstances.  At the same time, be flexible, and allow this plan to adjust as these parameters and circumstances actually present themselves.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


Today's page-a-day calendar message: "Beauty is how you feel inside, and it reflects in your eyes. -- Sophia Loren"

Coincidentally, blogger Ellen Stumbo posted this:

100 beautiful faces

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The teenaged baby

Yesterday, I was blocked on a blog.

The blogger, a very popular figure in the special-needs adoption community, posted this video of her adopted daughter:

The girl in the video is one of the survivors of the Pleven orphanage in Bulgaria. When she came home last year, she was severely malnourished, "literally at death's doorstep." She was 14 years old, and weighed 14 lbs.  The Salems have done amazing work in rehabilitating her, supporting her transition to good nutrition, and showering her with love and nurturing.  This video is, in fact, a testament to her physical and emotional healing.

Why, then, was I blocked?

My objectionable comment (which, I grant, allowed room for misunderstanding), was: "I know she is severely delayed, but isn't it still inappropriate to tickle a teenaged girl's chest?"

I need to clarify again, that I do not believe that there is any untoward intent on the part of the dad in the video. He sees her as a baby, and treats her as one. My question is not about his intent, but about her personhood. How do we differentiate between the ways in which seeing her as a baby is appropriate, and those in which it is not?

This video brings into focus a question which comes up not only in the adoption community, but in the larger disability community as well.  To what extent do developmental delays warrant infantile treatment, and at which point should people -- even those who are severely delayed and limited -- be accorded more mature treatment?

This is seen in recent stories where young adults with Down syndrome have sought to get married.  In a recent story (which I will link to when I find it...) a couple with Down syndrome had a symbolic wedding, only to go back to their respective group homes, since neither one offered them the possibility of living together as a married couple.  Similarly, an adult woman with Down syndrome sued her own parents for the right to determine her own living arrangement.  Frequently, such individuals are confronted with the objection, that since they are developmentally delayed, they should be treated as minors, according to a medically-determined "developmental age" which may be anywhere between 6 and 12 years old.  Our society is slowly learning that "developmental age" is not so clear-cut.

This video appears to me to show a similar problem.  This girl is developmentally a baby.  She does not walk or talk, and her understanding of her surroundings is extremely limited.  However, with the good nutrition she is now receiving, her body will probably go into puberty mode soon.  It is possible that it is already doing so.  What is appropriate in relating to an individual whose body might be ready to respond sexually, but the rest of whose development is still in infancy?  Clearly they need to touch her to bathe and diaper her, but that is routinely done with adults in medical settings, with clear understanding as to what is and is not inappropriate touching.  A child like Hasya in this video, however, presents like a baby, which is why the commenters were aghast that I would see anything questionable about this tickling. Perhaps they are right, and Hasya has not yet reached the point that body boundaries are appropriate.  The question still stands:  How do we decide? Where is that line?

Here, in contrast, is a video put out by a charity working to bring specialized therapists to Ukrainian orphanages and institutions:

Notice that the caretaker is tickling "Natasha" on her belly and armpits, but avoiding her chest entirely.

One might say that I have no business commenting on this, since I do not have a severely delayed, post-institutionalized child at home.  I do, however, have 3 daughters, and I know that with each of them, we established body boundaries several years before any outward manifestation of puberty appeared.  I know that tickling, say, an 8-year-old girl on her chest like that would feel very wrong.

Finally, one of the other commenters wrote:
Hehe I can just hear her saying "Papa, stooooop" while trying to catch her breath between giggles!! SO precious!! 
At which point, for a severely delayed child, does No start to mean No?

Haftorah Beam - Terumah

I seem to have missed blogging about this Torah portion last year.....  It deals with the collection of funds and materials for the Tabernacle, as well as instructions for its construction.

The Haftorah portion for this week is skipped because it is the beginning of the month of Adar, so we read the Rosh Hodesh Haftorah instead, which I've already blogged about.  So technically I can flake out on this one....  but I'll make an effort anyway.

This commentary emphasizes the need to focus on the internal devotion more than the external trappings of religious observance.  I was drawn to this verse (1 Kings 6:7):

וְהַבַּיִת, בְּהִבָּנֹתוֹ--אֶבֶן-שְׁלֵמָה מַסָּע, נִבְנָה; וּמַקָּבוֹת וְהַגַּרְזֶן כָּל-כְּלִי בַרְזֶל, לֹא-נִשְׁמַע בַּבַּיִת בְּהִבָּנֹתוֹ.7 For the house, when it was in building, was built of stone made ready at the quarry; and there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was in building.--

The stones were prepared at the quarry, so that no sounds of violence and destruction would be heard at the actual construction site.  This seems to me a metaphor for the preparation we make for doing sacred work. The axes and hammers are necessary.  Conflict and strife, pain and struggle, are often necessary in order to build the sanctuary of our souls, and to construct a perfected world (Tikkun Olam). However, we should take care to work our way through it "in the quarry", so that it does not detract from the sacred work itself.

With respect to this blog, it seems to connect to the preparation that we must do to welcome an orphaned and/or disabled child into our home.  There is often doubt and ambivalence, fear and resentment, when anticipating the needs of such a child. We owe it to the child and to ourselves to work through all these issues ahead of time -- in the quarry -- so that the child is welcomed into an edifice built of whole stones  "אֶבֶן-שְׁלֵמָה".

Haftorah Beam - Mishpatim

The Torah portion begins with the commandments governing the ethical treatment of slaves.  The Haftorah reading follows up on this theme with a historical account of the people having been directed to release their slaves:
10 Everyone, officials and people, who had entered into the covenant agreed to set their male and female slaves free and not keep them enslaved any longer; they complied and let them go. 11 But afterward they turned about and brought back the men and women they had set free, and forced them into slavery again. 
Reading this, I can't help but think of the goings-on in Ukraine right now.  If you can read Russian (or use Google Translate), check out this account.  The Ukrainian people have tried time and again to throw off the Russian yoke, and always, the Russian military shows little restraint in crushing these efforts. Ukrainian land was historically the breadbasket of Russia. Setting Ukraine free leads to food shortages in Moscow and St. Petersburg.  Can Ukraine find enough allies to break free for good?

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