This thought has three parts: It begins with a story, goes into a little Chassidus philosophy and ends up talking about the meatballs and spaghetti we served at the Disability Awareness, Appreciation and Inclusion Shabbat, as part of an international Chabad effort titled #ShabbaTTogether.
First the story:
In 1976 a group of wounded Israeli veterans participated in the Para-Olympics in Toronto that year. As part of their trip, they stopped in NYC and went to visit the Rebbe. This turned out to be a special occasion, the Rebbe spoke specifically to their group and spent time greeting each of them individually. One of the things the Rebbe told them was that he took issue with the terms “disabled” or “handicapped” because people who have such challenges often have or exhibit incredible compensating strengths, and a more positive term such as “special” or “exceptional” ought to be used instead. This jives with the Rebbe’s general style of always seeking positive expressions and perspectives over negative ones, empowering over disabling. See the book “Rebbe” where Joseph Telushkin devotes a whole chapter to this theme, or the book “Positivity Bias” by Mendel Kalmenson. For more on this wounded warrior visit, see this link for the full story or this link has some first-person video about it.
Some Philosophy – via the lens of Despite VS Because
There can be two approaches to how we seek appreciation and dignity for the disabled or handicapped in society. One approach is to look past the disability, kind of ignore it, and find the shared humanity or soul within. The second approach is to recognize and validate the challenges and see the strengths borne of it and within it. The first approach rises above the problem, the second approach deals with it.
Chabad Philosophy would say that both approaches are not only valid but necessary, and each one contributes in a different way to our appreciation of others. In Chabad thinking there are a bunch of issues, beyond the interpersonal, that line up under the two categorizations of “Despite VS Because”. In this case, is it that we ignore the disability and see their humanity within, or is it about recognizing and embracing the disability.
There’s a Psalms verse about humans being simplistic before G-d. Tanya 46 reads it that despite our simplicity we are close with G-d, while Tanya 18 sees it our simplicity as a cause for connection, it is because of our simplicity. So which is right? Both are true.
Another example, more on point for this discussion. There are two classic texts about love your fellow in Chabad teaching, the Alter Rebbe in Tanya 32 and his grandson the Tzemach Tzedek in his book Derech Mitzvosecha. In Tanya 32 the argument is made for soul-connection, as we are only outwardly separate but inwardly unified. So the more we focus inward, soul-ward, the more love of our fellow becomes possible. Then there’s Derech Mitzvosecha which uses Arizal’s analogy of the Jewish people considered as one giant body. Every limb has its function and purpose, the mind and heart do different things, as do the kidneys and liver, hands and feet. Each person is another limb and it takes all of us together to make one unified functioning healthy body.
So Alter Rebbe’s Tanya 32 sees love your fellow as despite our differences, while Tzemach Tzedek’s Derech Mitzvosecha sees Jewish unity because of our differences. In Social Studies class you might say that Alter Rebbe uses the melting pot analogy where it all melts into oneness, while Tzemach Tzedek is more of the salad bowl, where the individual flavors and textures are recognizable and all contribute.
True unity, true inclusion, needs both approaches to succeed.
Now onto to the Meatballs and Spaghetti:
Not sure why this happens, but almost every time Raizy serves meatballs and spaghetti at a Shabbat or holiday dinner I come up with some message from it. Here are some earlier examples: One that compares Lulav and Sukkah unity (similar theme to this point), and this letter I got about our class on the Inner Mystical Significance of Meatballs and Spaghetti, and a bunch of others we don’t have posted online.
I thought I’d skip that this time, but then this whole despite and because theme came to me. So here it is:
Meatballs are circular, spaghetti is linear. Circles have no defined beginning and end, Kabbalistically a circle represents the infinite, eternity. Meatballs are like the higher approach, the circle rises above differences, it doesn’t recognize the problem or challenge. It sees everything and everyone as one. Spaghetti are line segments, they start here and end there, longer and shorter, all different sizes. This represents the lower more engaging approach, deal with the issues, recognize their roles, make them a part of the whole picture.