With the beginning of the school year, we are sharing a letter of the Rebbe to the chairman of the Major Conference for the Jewish Community on Issues and Needs of the Jewish Retarded, in which he addresses the education of our children with special needs.
The question is asked and the Rebbe answers: when you have an individual with physical or mental limitations what is the purpose or meaning of his/her existence if they are not able to fulfill G-d’s commandments, as this is the primary purpose of existence?
This letter is from Volume 5 of THE LETTER AND THE SPIRIT – just released before Yom Kippur and available in the local Crown Height judaica stores.
By the Grace of G-d
25th of Teves, 5741
Greeting and Blessing:
Thank you very much for your letter and for the Conference kit received separately. I appreciate the trouble you have taken to report to me on the Conference and its recommendations. May G-d grant that the Conference will produce the desired fruits, even in excess of expectations. Especially as the zechus Horabim helps, particularly when the Rabim are, in this case, our Jewish youngsters.
With reference to the question at the conclusion of your letter, raised by a mother, to the effect that if the primary purpose of existence is to fulfill G-d’s commandments; and if a Jew is unable from childhood to carry out any of these commandments because of physical or mental limitations; what then is the purpose or meaning of his/her existence?
The answer to this question must be sought in the context of a more embracing general problem, of which the above is but one of many possible facets.
It should be remembered that according to the Torah itself, it is impossible for every Jew, as an individual, to fulfill all the 613 Mitzvos. Apart from mitzvos which are applicable only in Eretz Yisroel and during the time that the Beis Hamikdash is in existence, there are mitzvos which are obligatory only to Kohanim for example, while there are mitzvos which a Kohen is precluded from fulfilling. But by virtue of the fact that all Jewish people are one entity, like one organism, every individual who fulfills his or her obligations to the extent of their G-d-given capacities, share in the totality of the effort and accomplishment.
A similar principle prevails also in every human society in general, where everyone has to contribute to the common weal, though each one is necessarily limited in one’s capacities, be one a plain farmer, producing food or a scientist or inventor of farm machinery and the like. One who excels in one’s particular field of endeavor may be limited or useless in another area. Who is to say which one is more important, which one makes a greater contribution? Only harmonious collaboration and utilization of all human resources make for the utmost completeness and perfection of the society. As for the individual, all that need be said – as indeed our Rabbis have emphasized, is that G-d does not demand of an individual anything that is beyond the individual’s natural capacities. It is not for a human being to question why G-d has endowed one individual with greater capacities than another individual.
To return to the subject of the correspondence, namely, the needs of the special children (or the so-called retarded or developmentally limited, as often spoken of), they are, to be sure, limited in certain areas (and who is not?), but there is no reason nor justification, to generalize all into one and the same category of “limited” or “retarded.” Human experience is replete with examples of individuals who have been severely limited in some aspects, yet they subsequently excelled and made great extraordinary contributions to society in other aspects.
I am quite convinced that if a proper system of aptitude tests were instituted, to determine the particular skills of our special children at an early age and appropriate classes were established to enable them to develop these skills, the results would be enormously gratifying, if not astounding. Needless to say, such an educational method would greatly enhance their self confidence and general development, not to mention also the fact that it would enable them to make an important contribution to society.
With esteem and blessing,