Sheryl Grossman z”l: Opening the Doors

This past Sunday Sheryl Grossman z”l passed away. BD”E. Even though she was only 4-foot-3, in my eyes she was a giant. She was a force of nature advocating for people with disabilities in Jewish community and in the larger world. I was honored to meet and become friends with her in St Louis during my years as the Hillel Rabbi at WashU. Like so many other people who connected with Sheryl, I have many cherished memories of our debates. Something I have been carrying with me all of these years is Sheryl’s story how the Jewish camp that she went to stopped accommodating her needs. Despite or because of everything and everyone pushing her aside, Sheryl was a model of faith and action. She belonged in the community and represented us so well to the larger world. Her belief opened the community for others. She made us better. In her absence we all have more work to do.

In pondering her memory I am reminded about the story of the deposition of Rabban Gamaliel. After he was kicked out they removed the guard. There we learn:

A Tanna taught: On that day the doorkeeper was removed and permission was given to the students to enter. For Rabban Gamaliel had issued a proclamation [saying] “No student whose inside is not as his outside may enter the Bet ha-Midrash”. On that day many benches were added. Rabbi Yohanan said: There is a difference of opinion on this matter between Abba Yosef ben Dosetai and the Rabbis. One says that four hundred benches were added, and the other says seven hundred. Rabban Gamaliel became depressed and said: Perhaps, God forbid, I withheld Torah from Israel!  

Berakhot 28a

One could have a whole conversation how the guard during Rabban Gamaliel’s time might be able to discern which potential student’s inside were not as his outside, but I will leave that for another time. For now I want to understand Rabban Gamaliel’s sentiment at the end. Why was he depressed? What did it mean that he withheld Torah from Israel?

The simple meaning would be that Rabban Gamaliel saw with the removal of the doorkeeper there were more people in the Bet Midrash. There might have been a disagreement as for the number of benches needed, but Rabban Gamaliel was saddened to see the number of people who could have been learning from him. But alas, they did no come in due to the barrier he set up. He was depressed that more people did not learn from him when he was in charge. Another way to read this is not about quantity, but rather of quality. The guard’s job was to judge people on their outsides. When they removed that barrier more people had access to Torah. This fundamentally changed the nature of the Torah that was being learned in the Bet Midrash. A Torah that does not speak with and for the full diversity of learners is itself an incomplete Torah. Rabban Gamaliel became depressed because this accessible and universally relevant Torah was withheld from Israel!  

Sheryl Grossman z”l was a inspired and inspiring person of faith and action. She spent her life removing the doorkeepers, bringing in more benches, building ramps and elevators, bringing sign language interpreters, making sure the text was available in large font, etc. She worked tirelessly to make sure that the richness of an assessible Torah would not be withheld from Israel and the world!

May her memory be for a blessing and inspire us all to realized her vision. If you would be interested in learning Mishna in her memory please join in here.

– Links to related post on JDAIM,

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