Archive for the '5.08 Nitzavim / VaYelech' Category

Standing This Day

At the beginning of this week’s double portion, Nitzavim- VeYelech, we read:

9 You are standing this day all of you before the Lord your God: your heads, your tribes, your elders, and your officers, even all the men of Israel, 10 your little ones, your wives, and your stranger that is in the midst of your camp, from the hewer of your wood unto the drawer of your water… 13 Neither with you only do I make this covenant and this oath;   14 but with him that stands here with us this day before the Lord our God, and also with him that is not here with us this day.  (Deuteronomy 29:9-14)

If it happened at all, revelation happened thousands of years ago at Sinai. What does it mean that this day there was revelation with the people who were not even there? Rashi cites the Midrash Tanchuma to explain that this is the source for the tradition that all Jews, from all generations, stood at Sinai. We were all there to embrace the special relationship with each other and the holy Other at that moment of Revelation.

We at the Foundation for Jewish Camp are ideologically pluralistic. We celebrate that we all experienced that moment differently but still enjoy the notion that we were all there. This memory itself fosters Jewish unity and empowers individuals to increased Jewish knowledge on their own terms. The diversity of camps we work with speaks to the diversity of needs of the families in our community. While each camp thinks it is completely unique, when they meet a camp person from another camp they realize how much they actually have in common. From the camp director to first time camper, from the maintenance staff to the veteran counselor, every summer we are blessed to reconvene these holy Jewish communities at camp. Even if geographically they are all over North America and ideologically they are all doing their part in building the larger Jewish community. But why limit it to just those days of summer?

It seems fitting on this Shabbat, in which we recall being together at Sinai, we think about the Global Day of Jewish Learning. Last year the Global Day of Jewish Learning was conceived to mark the completion of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’s monumental translation on the Talmud. The inaugural event was a huge success reaching every corner of the Jewish world with 600 events in 400 communities in 48 countries. If you are interested in reconnecting to this moment when we were all together at Sinai think about getting your camp community together during the off season to hold or join a Global Day of Jewish Learning event on November 13th. Check out their website and be in touch with us if we can help.

– As seen on Foundation for Jewish Camp Blog



More on Woodcutters and Water Carriers

Last week marked our daughter Emunah’s first birthday and my first year anniversary of writing this blog. At the start of last week’s Torah portion, Nitzavim VaYelech we read,

9You stand this day, all of you, before the Lord your God—your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, all the men of Israel, 10your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodcutter to water carrier (Deuteronomy  29:9-10)

Every Jew was included in the renewal of the covenant, regardless of his or her socio-economic situation or the variety of his or her religious/ritual commitment. But, what can we learn from the Torah’s specifying from the woodcutter to the water carrier?

The Bible seems to be telling a story of a dynamic tension between these two vocations. Last year I explored how Adam and Eve might be understood metaphorically as the woodcutter and the water carrier. This year I wanted to suggest two more readings.

Soon after we celebrate Rosh HaShanah we will celebrate Simchat Torah and reboot our yearly cycle of Torah reading.  And then just after the creation of the world, we will turn our attention to Noah and his generation. While there are many stories in the Bible in which people are looking for water, in the time of Noah that is not their issue. God sent a flood to expunge the world of the poor behavior of the sinners of Noah’s generation. Noah saved humanity from the peril of too much water by following God’s direction to make and ark of gopher wood (Genesis 6:14) In this context we can see that the people acting like animals were the water carriers and Noah in hewing the wood for the ark was the woodcutter. This is to say that in last week’s Torah portion we were inviting everyone from the savior ( Noah)  to the sinner ( the people who caused the flood). We learn that no one has the monopoly on access to Torah.

For today’s readers the story of the flood seems like a Disney movie, but have evolved so much since biblical times. We think we are in control and that we have conquered nature. But it is obvious from the recent flooding  in Pakistan and Katrina here in America that this is far from the case. As much as we try we cannot transcend nature. Even Noah the person who survived the flood by becoming the woodcutter did not know when to leave the ark he built. There we read,
The dove came back to him toward evening, and there in its bill was a plucked-off olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the waters had decreased on the earth.( Genesis 8:11)
There is a sweet irony in that we almost went extinct in acting like animals in becoming the water carriers and it was an animal that became a woodcutter and saved Noah and his family.  In this sense the invitation of the woodcutter to the water carrier  is a reminder of the famous words of Rabbi Simcha Bunam. He said,
Every person should have two pockets. In one, [there should be a note that says] bishvili nivra ha’olam, ‘for my sake was the world created.’ In the second, [there should be a note that says] anokhi afar va’efer, ‘I am dust and ashes.’
It seems that control itself might be illusory. I hope that Emunah has another wonderful year perfecting her walking and learning how to navigate her “two pockets”.

Of Woodcutters & Water Carriers

On the eve of the High Holidays I have to admit that I am excited. I know that during this time more Jews will reconnect to each other, their Judaism, and their inner selves than at any other time of the year. Regardless of where they are the rest of the year, they know that they are welcome back to the synagogue during the High Holidays. While one could bemoan their estrangement from the religious life as well as from the entire Jewish community the rest of the year, I choose to bask in the simple pleasure of their company at this time. I strive to live in the national myth of meeting up with my fellow pilgrims on our way up to Jerusalem to bring our festival sacrifices. The High Holidays are a time when every Jew feels a calling to come back to the Jewish community.

I like the idea of this sort of open invite. This idea of inclusion finds resonance in the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Nitzavim. We read, “You are standing today, all of you…from the hewer of your wood to the drawer of your water.” (Deut 29:9-10) Every Jew was included in the renewal of the covenant, regardless of his or her socio-economic situation or the variety of his or her religious/ritual commitment. But, what can we learn from the Torah’s specifying the woodcutter and the water carrier?

Without falling into some Augustinian ditch, I wanted to offer one of many answers to the framing of our collective mythology in these terms. When Adam and Eve took from the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil they established themselves as the first people to cut from a tree (Genesis 3:6). The consequence of which was that for the rest of time we would have to work the land to get food. As we see in the second passage of the Sh’ma (Deuteronomy 11:13- 21), Gcd limits rain as a means of regulating our behavior.  If Adam and Eve were the woodcutters, by following Gcd’s will the Israelites became the water carriers. The problem created by that first chopping of wood would not simply be solved by working the land. We also needed water to face the challenge of survival.

Even if we do not agree with the reward and punishment theology inherent in the Sh’ma, I find it meaningful that we, all of us across time, are part of a collective. Regardless of how many times we show up, all of us need to own the problem and work toward the solution. As we gear up for the High Holidays, I look forward to basking in the myth of our collective and to also taking responsibility for the past and the future. We cannot just look back and try to wash away an “original sin”. We all sin all the time. What trees has our generation cut down? Will a future generation figure out how they will bring the water? Our environmental issues today are not so original.

I would love to hear your thoughts. Shabbat Shalom.

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