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! havc always lclt grcat compassion lor ¡sau. Having studicd thc
8iblc through thc lcns ol traditional intcrprctation, ! was accustomcd
to rcad Jacob as thc wondcrlul son and ¡sau as thc black shccp ol
thc covcnantal lamily. Latcr, ! camc to dclcnd ¡sau, insisting on his
good qualitics without bcing surc why. ! rcmcmbcr thc day whcn it
! attcndcd a study scssion on Gcncsis in which thc lccturcr dc
scribcd ¡sau’s impulsivcncss: sclling his birthright, cating, and lcav
ing immcdiatcly thcrcaltcr. Around that samc timc ! had bccn rcad
ing cxtcnsivcly about attcntion dcﬁcit hypcractivity disordcr (~unu).
Upon hcaring thc lccturcr’s dcscription ol ¡sau, ! lcancd ovcr to a
companion and whispcrcd with a chucklc that maybc ¡sau had ~unu.
My own commcnt stuck in my mind and ! bcgan to rcthink thc tcxt
lrom a ncw pcrspcctivc. Small dctails suddcnly ﬁt togcthcr in a morc
cohcrcnt way. (Tis insight will bc addrcsscd in morc dcpth in Chap
tcr 1.) Sccn in this light, ¡sau no longcr appcarcd an cvil man with
misplaccd prioritics, but rathcr, a portrait cmcrgcd ol somconc with
lcarning issucs who had ncvcr rcccivcd thc gilt ol bcing undcrstood.
As thc idca dcvclopcd, ! bcgan to rcad othcr biblical charactcrs
through this lcns. !nitially, ! locuscd on individuals who somchow did
not sccm to ﬁt thc mold. ! soon rcalizcd that a numbcr ol biblical pcr
sonalitics could also bc rcad as having spccial nccds. Furthcr, ! camc
to bclicvc that thcrc was much to bc gaincd lrom a compassionatc
rcading ol thc tcxt: !t cncouragcs sccing cach charactcr as having bccn
crcatcd in thc imagc ol God, b’tselem Elohim. Such a rcading invitcs
us not to bc so quick to dismiss thosc charactcrs with challcngcs (in
thc tcxt, and by cxtcnsion, in our own livcs), and givcs us a grcatcr
opportunity to dccpcn our rclationship with all ol God’s crcation.
Rcading thc tcxt in this way also scrvcs thc lunction ol cnriching thc
convcrsation, biblical as wcll as cducational, at a timc whcn it is bc
coming clcar that “normal” dcvclopmcnt, or bchavior that wc considcr
“typical,” is a rcccding idcal!
\icws diﬀcr as to thc lcgitimacy ol looking back at historical and
litcrary charactcrs to makc modcrn diagnoscs. Tc tools wc would
nccd to makc thcsc claims, such as school rccords and thc likc, arc
not availablc, so ol coursc ! do not lay claim to any authoritativc por
trayal ol thc charactcrs’ historical biographics. My primary conccrn is
ncithcr with thc original intcnt ol thc tcxt nor with thc most probablc
mcaning. Rathcr, my aim is to cxtcnd thc mcaning ol a sacrcd tcxt
by looking through an inclusivc lcns that allows it to bc rcad in a ncw
way. For ccrtain major charactcrs who prcscnt with ovcrt disabilitics,
likc Moscs, thc inlormation is clcarly prcscnt in thc tcxt. Vith closc
rcading, it can bc sccn that thc 8iblc contains othcr charactcrs who
havc spccial cmotional, bchavioral, or physical nccds. Tcrc is much
lor us to lcarn lrom how thcsc charactcrs scc thcmsclvcs, how thcy arc
trcatcd, and how thcy arc addrcsscd by God.
!n thc lollowing chaptcrs, ! usc an intcrprctivc lramcwork that
is carclul and dclibcratc to cxaminc thc tcxt’s nuanccs and uniquc
litcrary dcviccs within thc rcalm ol peshat, thc contcxtual mcaning.
!n othcr words, nonc ol thcsc rcadings arguc against thc dctails or
structurc ol thc biblical tcxt. ! strivc throughout to ﬁnd support lor
all clcmcnts ol thc intcrprctation through thc languagc, thcmcs, and
stylc prcscnt in thc tcxt. ! havc takcn carc to build cach casc with
multiplc tcxtual supports and havc ncvcr bascd a conclusion on onc or
two vcrscs alonc. Givcn my grcat apprcciation lor and dclight in thc
translation mcthod ol Ðr. ¡vcrctt Fox, many ol thc translations ol
biblical tcxts hcrc draw cxtcnsivcly on his work in Tc Fivc 8ooks ol
Moscs. !n addition, ! havc drawn on thc translations ol thc Ncw Jcw
ish Publication Socicty Tanakh which arc oltcn clcgant and smooth.
!n this book, ! havc limitcd myscll to cducational issucs only. Tc
singlc chaptcr that stands outsidc this lramcwork conccrns dcprcssion.
Tat was includcd bccausc today thcrc is a rising numbcr ol childrcn
who suﬀcr lrom dcprcssion, both in school and in socicty at largc,
and this impacts on thcir lcarning. !n addition, sincc dcprcssion can
arisc lrom undiagnoscd or misundcrstood lcarning disabilitics, it has
bccomc an important issuc lor many cducation prolcssionals. Tcsc
paramctcrs, howcvcr, havc lcd mc to cxcludc rcadings ol othcr vcry
intcrcsting charactcrs whosc nccds arc outsidc thc rcalm ol cducation,
such as King Saul.
As a biblicist who carcs vcry dccply about thc 8iblc, ! havc lound
through study and tcaching that lcssons lrom thc 8iblc can bc brought
to bcar on a vcry largc rangc ol contcmporary issucs. As Rabbi bcn
8ag 8ag said, hafokh bah, hafokh bah, dekulei bah. “Porc ovcr it again
and again, lor cvcrything is in it” (Pirkci Avot 5:26). ! do not know
whcthcr thc ancicnt Rabbis conccivcd ol thc laycrs ol mcaning that
modcrn rcadcrs would ﬁnd in thc biblical tcxt. Howcvcr, ! am movcd
rcligiously and spiritually to ﬁnd that thc tcxt ol thc 8iblc is so rich
that it can cvcn scrvc as a basis lor discussing issucs ol spccial cduca
Tis book shows that thcrc is a valuablc conncction bctwccn thc
study ol thc 8iblc and thc ﬁcld ol spccial cducation. 8oth ﬁclds
bcncﬁt lrom thc work. Tc conclusions ol this study havc biblical,
cducational, and rcligious implications. For thosc who rcad thc 8iblc,
this work providcs ncw insights into biblical charactcrs and thc
attitudc ol thc 8iblc toward pcoplc with disabilitics. !t also crcatcs a
uniquc intcrprctivc modcl that can bc applicd across thc cntirc biblical
tcxt. For thosc in thc ﬁcld ol spccial cducation, this book providcs a
lramcwork that anchors thcir good work ﬁrmly in an ancicnt tradition
and calls attcntion to its holy purposc.
! wrotc this book as a prolcssional Jcwish cducator. As a Jcwish
community, wc arc only bcginning to addrcss thc nccds ol thc dil
lcrcntly ablcd, and much work rcmains to bc donc. ! havc obscrvcd
childrcn who arc unablc to rcccivc an appropriatc Jcwish cducation,
or who lacc constant strugglcs in trying to gct thcir schools to undcr
stand and providc lor thcir individual nccds. Looking at our sacrcd
tcxt in this ncw way can providc spiritual support lor thosc studcnts,
thcir lamilics, and thcir tcachcrs. God cnlolds thcm in God’s qucs
tion lor Moscs, “Vho makcs |man| dumb or dcal, sccing or blind: !s
it not !, thc Lord:” (¡xodus 4:11). Rcading thc tcxt with thcsc ncw
conncctions can hclp us to imaginc our spccial nccds brcthrcn in thc
cmbracc ol a loving God, and instructs us to rcspond in a similar
Trcmcndous rcligious and spiritual lulﬁllmcnt ﬂows lrom rcading
thc 8iblc through thc lcns ol spccial nccds. ! bclicvc that thc bcauty
and sacrcdncss ol thc 8iblc incrcasc cxponcntially as wc apply morc
ol its tcxts to aspccts ol our modcrn lilc. As wc cngagc in this study
ol thc tcxt and its cducational implications, wc should kccp in mind
thc rcvcrcnt naturc ol this proccss. ! hopc that this study will add to
thc growing litcraturc that cxpands thc rangc ol topics that can bc
addrcsscd through thc study ol 8iblc. ¡ach timc wc includc a ncw
disciplinc in our study ol thc 8iblc, wc ﬁnd anothcr conncction bc
twccn our Scripturc and oursclvcs.
Tat important biblical charactcrs can bc undcrstood as having
spccial nccds providcs lurthcr illustration that thc 8iblc truly is lor
all pcoplc. ¡vcryonc, in onc way or anothcr, can ﬁnd a placc within
thc lamiliar biblical tcxt. !n addition, thc prcscncc ol spccial nccds in
thc 8iblc rcinlorccs its valuc as a tool lor tcaching us how to conduct
oursclvcs in thc world. Tis book conﬁrms that thc 8iblc wants us to
trcat pcoplc with disabilitics with dignity and rcspcct.
Tis study also rcconsidcrs somc ol thc biblical charactcrs that
sccm to havc bccn drawn in a ncgativc light. As wc idcntily thcsc
ﬁgurcs’ spccial nccds, wc can put thcir challcngcs into a morc positivc
lramcwork. Tc chaptcrs on ¡sau and !saac makc this clcar. Vhcn wc
apprcciatc thc impact ol spccial nccds on thc livcs ol individuals and
thcir lamilics (whcthcr thcy arc charactcrs lrom thc 8iblc or pcoplc
wc know), wc stand a bcttcr chancc ol mccting thcm hallway.
!t is my hopc that this book can hclp us rccognizc thc rolc that
spccial nccds play in our tradition, and cncouragc our rcligiosocial
mandatc to do cvcrything in our powcr to cmbracc and nurturc pcoplc
with spccial nccds and thcir lamilics.
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