Archive for the '4.01 BaMidbar' Category

Work Ethic

In Bamidbar, this week’s Torah portion, we read:

…Thus shall you do for them, so they shall live and not die; when they approach the Holy of
Holies, Aaron and his sons shall come and assign them, every man to his work and to his burden. But
they shall come and look as the holy is inserted, lest they die.

(Numbers 4:17-20)

In the time of the Tabernacle, Aaron and the priests coordinated the community to contribute meaningful gifts and offerings in the spirit of maintaining the integrity of the community. Though the high priests
had a lot of responsibility, without delegating and empowering other people to participate, they would not have been able to function. Both the Hobbit and Harry Potter celebrate the importance of the everyday person in accomplishing big tasks. Best articulated by the wisdom of the seniors in the community, Gandalf says, “I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay;”

Albus Dumbledore says, “Perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it.” In this holy work of Jewish education, we may sometimes feel like the everyday person who is
fighting for power, and we may sometimes be the high priest who is given all of the authority.
Through our work, how are we involved in the most important parts of camp? How do we let
other people glimpse our goals and processes so they can be a part of the work we do?
What are the goals of where you work? What are your goals where you work? What more can we do to motivate people to step up? Responsibility without power can be crazy-making. I need to accomplish something I’m not equipped for. What power do you already have to accomplish your goals? Can you articulate these goals?

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Fire, Water, & Wilderness: Acquiring Mental Health

As the old joke goes:

A congregational Rabbi invites a young to congregant to the synagogue for Havdalah. It is going to be a special Camp Shabbat. They are going to do the special camp tunes that the happy camper came to enjoy at their summers at Jewish summer camp. Despite all of the arguments the camper is just not interested in joining. When pressed by the Rabbi, the young person says, “It will just not be the same without the lake”.

This joke brings to light the significance of immersive experiences. When we come at things head-on we might try to avoid them, but camp allows us to come at things side-ways.

I was thinking about this when reading Bamidbar, this week’s Torah portion. This week we start reading the book of Numbers- Bamidbar, Hebrew for “In the Wilderness”. Like every other year I find myself pondering the Midrash where we learn, ” There are three ways to acquire Torah, with fire, with water, and with wilderness.” (Midrash Numbers Rabbah 1:1). With Shavuot only a day away you might expect us to say that the the way to acquire Torah is revelation of Torah at Sinai or learning Torah. It is interesting in that this midrash is depicting fire, water, and wilderness as alternatives to this formal or direct instruction. The midrash could be understood to mean that we acquire Torah through passion (fire), immersion (water), and through a long trek in unknown land (the wilderness), all modalities of experiential and indirect instruction.

For decades this has validated my understanding of camps and travel experiences as the best ways to acquire Torah. But with the advent of COVID-19, a war in Ukraine, gun violence, and the mental health crisis that these issues has brought to light, we find ourselves in a new unknown land. In this new situation we are all struggling with issues of uncertainty, anxiety, and too much isolation. How are we acquiring Torah in this new wilderness?

Darwin Falls Wilderness - Wikipedia

This is why I am excited about summer 2022. We are about to send our youth off to be campers or counselors at summer camp. We need to look past the campfire ( fire), lake or pool (water), or hiking trip (wilderness) of camp to make meaning where we are. All these explain how we might use camp to help our youth acquire Torah through indirect instruction, but how might we help them with their mental emotional spiritual and social health ( MESSH) needs?

I want to offer a subversive thought, maybe in this context might direct instruction regarding Torah learning would do the trick? Overt Torah learning could be the means to an end of getting to discuss what is most important. It is a Trojan Horse that gets past people’s guards to open up and to engage deeply with things that matter. And in turn, having tended to these MESSH needs, our deeper emotional connections can also bring us back to Torah. The camp setting allows this cycle of human connection, personal growth, Torah and Judaism.

Along with my friend noted psychologist Dr. Betsy Stone and some colleagues at Foundation for Jewish Camp we put together a MESSH Torah resource for camp leaders for this summer. In a camp context leaders have the opportunity to speak to their staff members and to their campers all the time. What will they say? How might they authentically support their community? What strengths might they draw upon to do this holy work? How can they elevate their strengths, so that they are using their superpowers, rather than focusing on deficits?

Our intention with this packet is to create a space of overlap between our two fields: Judaism and psychology. How does psychological thought intersect with Jewish ideas? How might we use Judaism to support personal growth? What does the wisdom of our tradition have to teach us about the very real struggles we face today?

In the immersive experience (water) of camp they will explore their passion (fire), and reconnect with nature (wilderness). As we find ourselves in this new wilderness, we should use the Torah we have acquired to support our MESSH needs. To acquire Torah we need fire, water, and wilderness. To acquire MESSH we need Torah.

This is a draft. We recognize that it is far from complete. It is part of an interactive and iterative process to provide deep, accessible, and relevant resources for the field. Please give us your feedback and other content you would like to see us put into these notes for next year. avi@jewishcamp.org

Encampment, BaMidbar, and Building Back Better

At the start of BaMidbar, this week’s Torah portion, we read of the desert encampment of Israel. There we read:

When the Israelites set up camp, each tribe will be assigned its own area. The tribal divisions will camp beneath their family banners on all four sides of the Tabernacle, but at some distance from it.  ( Numbers 2:2)

The Desert Tabernacle: Collection of the Tabernacle Illustrations | Exodus  bible, Bible knowledge, Bible scriptures

I want to think about the need for the “distance” , but first I want to explore the meaning of the banners. According to Rav Hirsch the banner   דגל is related to דקל, which is a tree that can be seen all around.  Rav Hirsch also explains the phrase תמרות עשן similarly – like a תמר tree (דקל), that can be witnessed in all directions (and from all perspectives). Their banner was their signature stand out trait. They needed to maintain distance so that they could witness and appreciate each others stand out traits.

This seems like a wonderful model for pluralism for our community. We should strive to come together with people who you are different from us and make sure that we give each other  space to witness and appreciate our differences. This year with Covid and others are immersed in a war- this idea of needing “distance” takes on new meaning. The act of war means that no “distance” is enough to foster civility. In a different way Covid showed us even with civility, we needed our pods and other divisions to stay safe.

As we sit hear and pray for peace in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza and we start to imagine some emergence from Covid restrictions it is helpful to focus on this image of the tribes. Maybe this will provide us a healthy and safe frame for building back better .

Sheltering in Place: COVID-19 as a Time of Sukkot

As we start reading the book of Numbers- Bamidbar, Hebrew for “In the Wilderness”, I wonder where I am in my wandering. Like every other year I find myself pondering the Midrash where we learn, ” There are three ways to acquire Torah, with fire, with water, and with wilderness.” (Midrash Numbers Rabbah 1:1). The midrash could be understood to mean that we acquire Torah through passion (fire), immersion (water), and through a long trek in unknown land (the wilderness). For decades this has validated my understanding of camps and travel experiences as the best ways to acquire Torah. But with the advent of COVID-19 and many camps not being able to open up this summer, we find ourselves in a new unknown land. In this new situation we are all sheltering in place spending hours connected to our computer screens. How are we acquiring Torah in this new wilderness?

This gives me pause to think about where we are in history at this moment. For most of us who are not working on the front line of COVID- 19 we are out of harms way at home, but we are still not out of the woods. We are in the space between averting risk and still not totally free. We are reliving our time in the wilderness having left Egypt but not made it yet to the Promised Land. In spirit we are reliving the time of sukkot. About this time we read:

You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in sukkot, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I the Lord your God. (Leviticus 23:42-43)

The porous structure of the sukkah speaks to our vulnerable state of being during this period of time between unknown and known. The sukkah is both a time and the location for sheltering in place.

On Beacon, NY's Main Street, a sukkah turns townhall | The Times ...

But what was the original structure of the sukkot? About this we learn in the Talmud:

Rabbi Eliezer teaches that the sukkot of the desert experience were “clouds of glory,” which hovered over the Children of Israel for forty years in the wilderness. Rabbi Akiva disagrees saying,  “The sukkot were real booths that they built for themselves.” (Sukkah 11b)

Both Rabbis assumed that this was time of connected with God, but were the sukkot divine and virtual according to Rabbi Eliezer or real sukkot according to Rabbi Akiva? Both Rabbis celebrated sukkot in real sukkot, so what was the difference?

Our COVID-19 social distancing reality has made us aware that we actually want to connect.   When this started I doubted it possible to connect in a deep way virtually through a computer screen. Being forced to engage with each other in the cloud of the internet seemed forced and inauthentic. After having to move two in-person conferences online I can say it works. It might not be what we wanted but it is much more then we expected. In this timely and timeless moment of Sukkot we are all vulnerable and open.  The virtual can itself be real if we are open to making the connection. Torah can be acquired if we use a new pedagogue for this new wilderness. As we shelter in place we realize that we are in a time of sukkot  in which Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Akiva are actually agreeing. The cloud based connection can be a safe alternative to make real connections.

Tent of God

These days Yadid is a big 14-year-old who likes his alone time, but a few years ago he used to smother his sister Emunah with love.  I remember distinctly one time he asked me if I would let her sit with him on the ground. He proceeded to spread a blanket on top of her. Not having any of it Emunah pulled the blanket off of her head. But Yadid was not deterred so he asked his sister to join him in the  “Tent of God”.

I was thinking about this tender image when reading BaMidbar, this week’s Torah portion. In Torah portion we read about the census of the Israelites, the priests’ duties, and their configurations of tribes as they broke down camp to move.  The Tent of God was at the center of their world. We learn with a lot of detail how they encamped and traveled around the Tent.

Image result for encampment israelites

 

Even if they might smother each other at points, it is thrilling to imagine my children’s relationships evolve over the years. I would like to think that at the center of that will be an abiding love and desire to be close to each other throughout life’s journeys.

Back to Bamidbar – Cornerstone 2015 Shavuot and Going Back to Camp

I just got back from an exhilarating week at the 2015 Cornerstone Fellowship Seminar. There we trained over 330 counselors and supervisors who will be enriching the Jewish lives of thousands of campers and staff members this summer. I was thinking about this as we are in the final countdown to Shavuot and as we start the reading the Book of Numbers this Shabbat. In Hebrew, the book is called Bamidbar, the wilderness. With Shavuot we celebrate the giving of the Torah, what is the significance of our “entering the wilderness?”

In the Midrash we learn, “There are three ways to acquire Torah, with fire, with water, and with wilderness” (Midrash Numbers Rabbah 1:1). This Midrash could be understood to mean that we acquire Torah through passion (fire), immersion (water), and through a long trek in unknown land (the wilderness). Shavuot coming means that the end of school is close at hand. And with the end of school, the camp season is around the corner. This Midrash seems to be lived out at Jewish camp.

Camp is an amazing place where our children will make s’mores and memories by a camp fire (the fire), take the deep water test (the water), and go on a physically challenging hike (in the wilderness). Jewish camp is amazing on another level though. There, our children will be led by extraordinary role models who will ignite our children’s passion (the fire). There they will be part of building their own immersive purpose-driven Jewish community (the water). And there, we hope their experience will set them on their life journey to have a community of people to travel with along life’s path (the wilderness). As we are getting ready for Bamidbar and Shavuot I hope we are all also getting ready for camp, they are all profoundly revealing and edifying.

Chag Shavuot Sameakh – have a great holiday and enjoy packing for camp!

Cornerstone Banner- A Model for Pluralism

At the start of BaMidbar, this week’s Torah portion, we read of the desert encampment of Israel. There we read:

When the Israelites set up camp, each tribe will be assigned its own area. The tribal divisions will camp beneath their family banners on all four sides of the Tabernacle, but at some distance from it.  ( Numbers 2:2)

I want to think about the need for the “distance” , but first I want to explore the meaning of the banners. According to Rav Hirsch the banner   דגל is related to דקל, which is a tree that can be seen all around.  Rav Hirsch also explains the phrase תמרות עשן similarly – like a תמר tree (דקל), that can be witnessed in all directions (and from all perspectives). Their banner was their signature stand out trait. They needed to maintain distance so that they could witness and appreciate each others stand out traits.

This seems like a wonderful model for pluralism for our community. We should strive to come together with people who you are different from us and make sure that we give each other  space to witness and appreciate our differences. I am still on my yearly Cornerstone Program high where I get to see this encampment first hand. I got to see 250 2nd year Bunk staff from camps all over North America come together to learn how to enrich Jewish life for their fellow staff and campers. In the name of helping their campers this summer  we brought together representatives from Zionists camps ( Young Judea, Habonim Dror, HaShomer HaTzair, B’Nai Akiva), Community camps, Ramah camps, URJ camps, Day camps , and Independent camps. But this encampment did not try to have them all become the same, but rather gave them all space to stand up for their own beliefs. There seems to be a sacred space when we can both come together and give each other space to hold our banners high.

– Already looking forward to Cornerstone 2015

 

 

Revealing Jewish Camp

It is interesting that as we are in the final countdown to Shavuot we start the reading the Book of Numbers.  In Hebrew, the book is called Bamidbar, the wilderness. With Shavuot we celebrate the giving of the Torah, what is the significance of our “entering the wilderness?”

In the Midrash we learn, “There are three ways to acquire Torah, with fire, with water, and with wilderness” (Midrash Numbers Rabbah 1:1). This Midrash could be understood to mean that we acquire Torah through passion (fire), immersion (water), and through a long trek in unknown land (the wilderness). Shavuot coming means that the end of school is close at hand. And with the end of school, the camp season is around the corner. This Midrash seems to be lived out at Jewish camp.

1001_110811-FJC_x46Camp is an amazing place where our children will make s’mores and memories by a camp fire (the fire), take the deep water test (the water), and go on a physically challenging hike (in the wilderness). Jewish camp is amazing on another level though. There, our children will be led by extraordinary role models who will ignite our children’s passion (the fire). There they will be part of building their own immersive purpose-driven Jewish community (the water). And there, we hope their experience will set them on their life journey to have a community of people to travel with along life’s path (the wilderness). As we are getting ready for Bamidbar and Shavuot I hope we are all also getting ready for camp, they are all profoundly revealing and edifying.

Chag Shavuot Sameakh – have a great holiday and enjoy packing for camp!

– Reposted from the Canteen

My Regular Bamidbar Check-In

As we start reading the book of Numbers, as we do this week, I wonder where I am in my wandering. In Hebrew, the book is Bamidbar, the wilderness. Like every other year I find myself pondering the Midrash when it says, ” There are three ways to acquire Torah, with fire, with water, and with wilderness.” (Midrash Numbers Rabbah 1:1). The midrash could be understood to mean that we acquire Torah through passion (fire), immersion (water), and through a long trek in unknown land (the wilderness).

Where am I regarding living a passionate and driven life? Am I devoting enough of my time and effort to the causes to which I am most passionate? While I tend to immerse myself into anything I am doing, I often wonder if I am in a grove or in a rut. Am I floating or drowning? And as I look forward to turning the big 40 this year I give pause to what I have accomplished in the first 30-50% of my life. Where am I in my journey? How much of the wilderness is known and how much is left to discover?

 

Acquiring Torah

This week we start reading the book of Numbers.  In Hebrew, the book is Bemidbar, the wilderness. We learn in the Midrash,

There are three ways to acquire Torah, with Fire, with Water, and with Wilderness. (Midrash Numbers Rabbah 1:1)

The midrash could be understood to mean that we acquire Torah through passion (fire), the immersion (water), and through a long trek through the unknown (the wilderness).  This next month with bring us Shavuot (the fire of Torah),  many children having immersive Jewish experiences at  camp (passing their swim tests), and the many trials and tribulations of the Israelites wanderings in the wilderness ( as we read the book of Numbers).

On Shavuot we will celebrate the receiving of the Torah. While the event happened a long long time ago, we get to acquire  it anew every time it comes around again on the guitar, in harmony and with feeling.

Hag Sameakh-


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