Do not curse the deaf.
Do not put a stumbling block in front of the blind.
Revere your God.
This week’s parashah is Kedoshim, the centre of the whole Torah. It is the centre in two senses: we are slap bang in the middle of our scroll. When the warden performs the hagbahh tomorrow, the Torah will look almost completely even on both sides.
It is also, I feel, the spiritual centre of our Scripture. This is the part of the Torah that tells us what the rest of it was for. All the stories and speeches that surround the rest of the text can be summarised in this portion.
Many of the verses from elsewhere in Torah are repeated. Some of it might seem superfluous. Kedoshim reads a little bit like the Torah’s greatest hits, reminding us of some its most popular laws and aphorisms.
But the collection is not random. The smattering of commandments I recited at the beginning all have something important in common. They are about what rights and obligations people have in relation to each other.
This year has brought home to many of us that we cannot take our health for granted. Our bodies are fragile and the time on earth we have is precious.
If you were to become blind, or deaf, or sick, or old, what could you expect from society? What are the minimum standards that others owe you? And, if you are blessed with youth and good health, what must you do to honour others?
Do not place a stumbling block before the blind. You might think: of course! Who would do such a thing? Who would want to trip up the disabled? But cities are structured and buildings managed in ways that are full of stumbling blocks. Every staircase to access public transport; every meeting held miles away from places people can reach; every building without a wheelchair ramp; every space without accessible toilets; every show without subtitles; and every badly laid-out street. These are all stumbling blocks.
Do not curse the deaf. And again, you would say: who would do such a thing? Surely nobody would be so cruel as to insult people who cannot hear them! But this happens all the time. Every headline that calls disabled people scroungers; every job that refuses to make adjustments; every effort to make welfare harder to access; every time the price of medication is jacked up; every time a comedian makes fun of a disability… aren’t all these insults to the deaf?
These are all ways that disabled people are kicked while they’re down.
Instead, the Torah tells us we need to lift each other up.
May we be the ones to remove every stumbling block and replace every curse with a blessing.
This sermon is for Edgware and Hendon Reform Synagogue, Parashat Kedoshim, on 23rd April 2021