PERSPECTIVES: SPECIAL EDUCATION FOR SPECIAL CHILDRENBy: Suzanne Kushner - England
Chiddushei Harim teaches that the Almighty has many treasure chests in Heaven, all filled with an ample supply of every type of Beracho. But there is one treasury called OTZAR MATNAS CHINOM - one with free gifts, containing an infinite and unlimited supply of kindness and goodness. If a person, at any time feels that their lack of merit, knowledge, or performance of Mitzvot do not entitle him to Hashems benevolence, then it is this store which is his free gift. It is always open to grant help, however disproportionate to what he really deserves.
This very simple explanation is perhaps the whole key to the education of our handicapped children. It is a well known and proven fact, that a person whose eyesight or hearing has become weak, finds himself blessed with increased perception in his other senses of touch and smell and taste. For the Almighty balances perfectly what He gives us. But what of the handicapped child who appears on the surface not to have a full portion of any of these physical abilities? What of the child who seems to have none of the intellectual abilities which might have served to balance his lack of physical prowess? How can we justify the fairness of his gifts and how can he perform the Mitzvoth which enable us to partake of Hashems goodness?
The answer lies in realizing that each of us is not only endowed with a Guf - a body which is the seat of our intellectual and physical ability, but also with a Neshama - a soul which is the seat of our spiritual ability. Our problem is that we are not able to measure Neshama in the same way as we can quantify our external achievements. What appears to us to be an imbalance of creation, is in reality, our inability to realize that whereas most of us utilize our GUF to attain spirituality, those for whom that is impossible have an increased ability of the Neshama to reach the Almightys treasures.
How then do we handle their education: How should parents and teachers prioritize their training? In the same way as we are trained to maximize intellectual potential in other children, so too we must maximize the opportunities for spiritual education for handicapped children. OR HACHAYIM gave the reason for a BRIT, Circumcision, being on the eighth day - because this is when a baby has experienced the spirituality of a Shabbat. If a new born baby is able to appreciate the warmth of a NESHAMA YESAIRO - his extra Shabbat soul to increase spirituality on that day, then how much more so is the older child aware of the same warmth, love and kindness of the Spiritual world.
As teachers and parents, our aim must be to envelop them in every ritual and to include them in the performance of our every religious act. Every time they are part of our Shul service, hear our Kiddush, wear a Tallit, put on Teffilin, hear our Brocho for lighting candles, then we are raising their spirituality - for this is where their potential lies. If we, who sin so often, are welcome to partake of the OTZER MATANOS CHINOM, how much more so will these, our children be able to reach that store of the Almighty. We, knowing their potential to gain far more from all these religious rituals than the average person, must provide an over abundance of spiritual experiences. We, who are endowed with an excess of GUF, physical and mental prowess, we who have the ability, the knowledge and the wherewithal must use our powers to give the same opportunity to handicapped as we do to our most intellectual offspring. For each of our children needs some help to reach the Almighty. Every day our morning prayers read - VEKABAIL BERACHAMIM UVEROTZON ES TEFILLOSAINU - we ask the Almighty that in the absence of our own Mitzvoth, we still want Him to use His kindness and mercy not only to accept our prayers but to guide and help our souls to reach perfection. It is within our ability to give that same opportunity to others. Some of our children can do this through their physical actions and intellect - but for those who cannot, there is this separate ability - a capacity for absorbing religious feel which far outweighs our own capabilities. Maximizing that potential is within us all. Just as the Almighty reaches out to all of us and makes His treasures available, so too, must we make the Almightys Spirituality available to each child.
The secret of the treasures of the OTZER MATANOS CHINOM lies not in our knowledge of their availability but in the realization that we in turn can give the Almightys same treasures to those who can directly derive so much benefit from them.