Parshat Kedoshim (Vayikra 19:1-2) begins with the words:
God spoke to Moshe saying: “Speak to the entire congregation of B’nai Yisrael and say to them: ‘You shall be holy, for I, HaShem your God am holy,”
We then read about different examples of how to be holy including observing Shabbat, not cursing someone who is deaf and not placing a stumbling block before a blind person. We are constantly reminded to fear God. We are also taught not to take revenge or bear a grudge and to love your fellow as yourself.
Reading through Parshat Kedoshim brings to mind the Shalva band and the challenges that they have faced.
The Shalva band is made up of musicians with special needs. The two lead singers are blind and one member is visually impaired. Two members have Down syndrome, one has Williams syndrome and one is an injured Israeli soldier. They beat all of the odds and were slated to perform in the Eurovision completion. However, they were told that although the concert is after Shabbat (on a Saturday night), they must be there for the practice as well earlier in the day on Saturday.
When it was clear that the Saturday rule could not be changed, Shalva pulled out of the competition. Instead, they will perform at the semi-final which is not held on Shabbat. They have also been invited to perform on Erev Yom Ha’Atzmaut, the eve of Israel Independence Day at the torch lighting ceremony on Mount Herzl.
Although the Shalva band was not discriminated against due to their disabilities, their honor for Shabbat was not respected. Their fear of God was greater than wanting to represent Israel in the Eurovision. They did not bear a grudge and they have received a lot of respect and exposure for sticking to their beliefs.
According to Rabbi Naftali Hertz Wiesel, the “Biur”, “Love your fellow as yourself” reminds us that we are all created in the image of God. Just as you are created in the image of God, so too is your neighbor.
Since we were all created in the image of God, including those with special needs, all must be treated equally.
Shalva is now running a campaign to raise awareness of the fact that unfortunately, there are those who hold grudges against people with special needs and don’t want to include them. These people must be made aware of the fact that we must respect each other as we were all created in the image of God.
May we learn a lesson from the Shalva band and from Parshat Kedoshim to act holy, emulate God, treat others, including those who are different from us with respect and stand up for what we believe in.