Two Shabbatot ago I had the pleasure of being at the the Launch Pad Seminar for the Foundation for Jewish Camp. It is a seminar for incoming camp supervisors. There I met a young man who is going to be “head of the lake” this summer. We sat down to talk about his job and how he hoped to bring more Jewish content to the lake. Amongst the things that his staff will be teaching this summer are water safety, different levels of sailing, and of course how to make knots. Not realizing that this was part of his work, I asked to explain the significance of teaching campers how to make knots. They need to know how to keep the boats together and how safely to tie them up to the dock.
My mind flashed ahead to end of Shlach, this past week’s Torah portion. There we read,
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them throughout their generations fringes in the corners of their garments, and that they put with the fringe of each corner a thread of blue. And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that you may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them; and that you go not about after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you use to go astray; that you may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy to your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the LORD your God.’ ( Numbers 15: 37- 41)
These fringes worn on the Tallit are a unique sign of what it means to be a Jew. The unique symbol of the Jews are not the the head covering or Shabbat candles. Surely these are shared with other cultures and products of later rabbinic thought. We learn in the Sifre we learn the significance of the Tzitzit.
Rabbi Meir said: Whoever observes the mitzvah of tzitzit, is considered as if he greeted the Divine Presence, for tehelet resembles the sea, and the sea resembles the sky, and the sky resembles God’s holy throne. (Sifre, Shelach, 15:39)
If head of the lake is the teacher of knots I hope that he takes the time to explain to the campers the significance of the Jewish knots in our lives. Just like the knots in boating, Tzitzit help us make connections that keep us safe, speak of a lasting bond, and push us to look for the awe in the world.
I hope that this supervisor will make Judaism relevant at the lake. I also hope that he is able to bring bring the lake to their lives in camp. And just maybe they will be able to make the “connection” to Jewish life after their years at camp are over and there is no lake.