Posts Tagged 'Numbers'

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



Learning from Animals

In Balak, this week’s Torah portion, we read various stories regarding animals.   Long before we get to the climax of this story where Bilaam’s donkey talks to him, we meet Balak. There we read:

And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. ( Numbers 22:2)

Balak the king of Moav was afraid of the Israelites and  he sent messengers to Balaam. We wants this prophet to curse the Israelites.  But what is his name? Balak the son of Zippor- Balak the son of Bird. And of course this story of animals fits into the larger context of the book of Numbers where the people of Israel are acting like animals. We saw this last week from when they were being struck down by snakes and at the end of this week’s Torah portion when they succumb to animal-like sexual promiscuity. What do we make of all of this “parsha menagerie“?

To understand this we need to focus in on the story of the Bilaam’s donkey. In the story the donkey understood the Angel’s presence while Bilaam just did not understand. And Bilaam a prophet of God not only missed the Angel, but in the process also revealed his own ugly side by striking the donkey.

This reminds me of one of my favorite TED talks.

In this piece, Janine Benyus discusses all the things we can/should learn from animals. Besides all of the amazing biological points that she makes, she teaches us that all too often we think about how to use animals and not what we have to learn from them. The donkey teaches Bilaam and us that animals are to me learned from and not just used. In the books of Numbers and in life we need to mimic the best of animal behavior and not just the worst. In the end we are animals, but that is not all. We need to be more than just animals, but we still have what to learn.

Raise Your Flag

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

The sons of Israel shall camp, each by his own flag, with the signs of their fathers’ households; they shall camp around the tent of meeting at a distance. (Numbers 2:2)

There they organized themselves around the central tent of meeting according to their households. Rashi, the classical 11th century commentator, explains that each had their own flag with its own unique color to distinguish it from other flag so that each person could recognize his or her flag.

This past week, we at the Foundation for Jewish Camp, with the support of the Avi Chai Foundation, ran our 10th Cornerstone Fellowship. This brought a record 277 senior bunk staff from 51 camps to deepen Jewish programming at their camps this summer. And for the first time this year, Cornerstone fellows were eligible to receive college credit for their participation in the program, as part of a new course called Experiential Education at Jewish Summer Camp, which I am running with the help of Dr. Alvin Mars through the American Jewish University.  Students will focus on the basics of envisioning and implementing programs for informal Jewish educational experiences at camp while deepening their capacity for reflective practice, which will help professionalize the field of Jewish camping.

Looking around at our Cornerstone encampment this year, I could see a wide array of the colors of Jewish life in North America: Secular Zionists, Community camps, Hebrew language camps, Ramah, URJ, Bnai Brith, as well as many others. Each brought their unique flavor (and camp SWAG!), and turned what they learned at Cornerstone into a detailed action plan for enriching the Jewish culture of their camp. The diversity of camps learning and dreaming together spoke not only to their unique identities and passion for Jewish life, but also to our strength and success as a Jewish camping movement.

Another word for degel flag is nes, which in Hebrew also means “miracle.” As we begin the book of Bamidbar (Numbers), I realize that we can’t reduce our work to “The Numbers.” However, across 51 camps this summer, Cornerstone fellows will impact the lives of over 30,000 campers. Now that is a nes. The diverse cultures of Jewish life we see in these camps prove that we are not just surviving, but we are surely thriving. May we all raise our distinct flags alongside each other, finding ourselves in the tapestry of the Jewish people.

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