Pidyon Kaparot Now

Ability of Disability

Rabbi Yehoshua Alt

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The book Extraordinary Insights.

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Rabbi Alt merited to learn under the tutelage of R’ Mordechai Friedlander ztz”l for close to five years. He received Semicha from R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg ztz”l. Rabbi Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications and is the author of the books, Fascinating Insights and Incredible Insights. His writings inspire people across the spectrum of Jewish observance to live with the vibrancy and beauty of Torah. He lives with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes, and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of observance.

Listen to the short Fascinating Insights podcast at, where it can also be downloaded!

Ability of Disability

Many people we consider successful in this world aren’t happy.[1] The reverse is also true as many people who we wouldn’t consider successful are the ones who are truly happy.[2] This is because it is dependent on one being happy with his lot. Happiness doesn’t depend on what we have rather it depends on our outlook on whatever there is. If one is unhappy with what he has, he won’t be happy with what he gets. Indeed, the Gemara says אין עני אלא בדעה, a truly destitute person is one who is impoverished of דעת, knowledge.[3] The word שׂמח is a contraction of שׂם מח, focus your thoughts, because happiness depends on where your thoughts are, where you place your mind.[4]


In the 1980s, a man named Jerry Long—who was paralyzed from his neck down since a driving accident at age 17—wrote, “I view my life as being abundant with meaning and purpose. The attitude that I adopted on that fateful day has become my personal credo for life: I broke my neck but it didn’t break me.[5] I am currently enrolled in my first psychology course in college. I believe that my handicap will only enhance my ability to help others. I know that without the suffering, the growth that I have achieved would have been impossible.”


R’ Yitzy Hurwitz, who is completely paralyzed with the disease ALS,[6] recently wrote thoughts that were shared in his name by his son at a convention, in 2019, of over 5,800 people: One thing I have learned from my experience is that there is hardly a person who doesn’t have struggles. Whether it be health, money, shalom bayis, shidduchim, children, or something else. In my case it’s open and impossible to hide, so I am on display. But that doesn’t mean that your struggles are any less. You need to know that whatever you are dealing with, it’s directly from Hashem. That means that He wants something from you that can only be realized through your difficulty. It doesn’t mean that your mission and purpose has to end, rather that there is something else being asked of you, a new stage of your purpose and mission.[7] You don’t have to fight it, rather, you should find a way for your struggle to take you to the next level…This is positivity in the face of any challenge, not only to deal with your challenge, or to learn from your challenge, but to use your difficulty to lift you and your family to heights previously unimaginable, and even more, to use your difficulties as a platform to lift others up.[8] Because there is nothing better than lifting the spirit of a Jewish person. When I went for the first round of tests, I was given a devastating diagnosis, “You have bulbar ALS.” I didn’t understand what the doctor was saying, so I asked him to explain. He said, “It’s very serious, you are going to lose your muscles and you will be paralyzed, it’s the most aggressive form of the disease, you have two years to live.” As you could imagine, I was shaken to the core. When I left the office I was all alone, walking into the empty hallway I broke down in a fit of bitter tears. When I composed myself, I exited the building, and I saw a man falling on the ground having a seizure and I ran to help him. At that moment, I realized that there is still a lot that I can do. I resolved right there and then that no matter what the results of any further “tests,” I am going to remain positive and find a way to make a difference. I couldn’t imagine how high that way of thinking would take me.[9]


The word מַדוּעַ is a contraction of מַה דֵעָה, meaning to say when we ask why something happened, we must ask ourselves what we can learn from it. We can learn to be more vigilant next time, attain more knowledge in a given area and so on. Similarly, the word לָמָה, why, when vowelized differently can be read as לְמַה, for what. That is to say, for what purpose did this happen. How can I grow from this? We must realize that problems are opportunities. If you have a difficulty in your life, don’t miss the opportunity rather make it purposeful.

[1] A wise man once said that many people are dying to be like celebrities. However, the celebrities are dying because they are them.

[2] Someone once commented, “Being happy doesn’t mean everything is perfect. It means you decide to see beyond the imperfections.”

[3] Nedarim 41a. A sign once read, “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”

[4] Concerning jealousy it is said: “Jealousy is the art of counting someone else’s blessings instead of your own.”

[5] There is an adage, “We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.”

[6] He relies on a permanent ventilator to breathe and a feeding tube for nourishment. He communicates with his eyes, not only by moving them to control a screen that enables him to type, but also by simply looking into the eyes of those around him.

[7] In Mussaf of Rosh Hashana we say that Hashem is aware of all our doings: מי לא נפקד כהיום הזה כי זכר כל היצור לפניך בא מעשה איש ופקדתו ועלילות מצעדי גבר, for who is not judged today? For the memory of all creation is brought before You; the deeds of man and his charge and the causes of a person’s steps. Another explanation of these words is that man is held accountable for his deeds in general as well as how effectively he has carried out his “charge”— the unique mission of his life.

[8] The Ponovitcher Rav spoke about the Holocaust and his own survival with R’ Shlomo Hoffman. He was certain that Hashem spared his life so that he could rebuild Torah institutions that were destroyed in the Holocaust. The Ponovitcher Rav spent the rest of his life focused on his mission. Instead of letting the tragedies he experienced destroy him, he used them as an impetus. They filled him with a sense of obligation.

[9] There is a saying, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” Our attitude determines success or failure.


Author of the books Fascinating Insights and Incredible Insights

Listen to the short Fascinating Insights Podcast at

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