Our Torah readings these days focus on the wanderings of our ancestors in the desert on their way to the Promised Land. These peregrinations would take some getting used to. The lives they had lived for so long in Egypt – difficult as they were – were safe and luxurious compared with the hardships of a desert trek. The very basic necessities of existence were supplied only by virtue of miracles: Manna and Miriam’s Well. Arguments abounded and elbows were rubbed the wrong way. Even Moses needed some outside help in the person of his father-in-law, Jethro, to soothe bruised egos, salve hurt feelings and keep a disparate conglomeration of tribes from spiraling into a maelstrom of dysfunction. Our sages have opined that the individual tribes only truly became a unified whole after the generation that had left Egypt was gone, and a new generation had been born.
As preparations begin to send our children to camp, we might look upon the Israelites’ desert experience as a metaphor of sorts. We send our children off for a period of time, entrusted to the care of various individuals whom we may or may not know. We expect that they will be provided with food, shelter and positive experiences. We hope that the letters they send home are filled with sunshine and not plaintive “come get me….” pleas. We hope that the counselors are patient, wise and loving, and are fully capable of quickly creating a functional social group out of a disparate bunch of personalities and needs, many of whom have never been to camp before, or who may be the “new kid” in the cabin or the tent. If you think Moses had his challenges, take a moment to be grateful for the camp counselor.
So we send our children off, armed with all the amenities we can think of, to be given an immersive social, intellectual and spiritual experience in a very short time. If the experience is successful, our children will return to us broader minded, more socially savvy and having learned a host of new skills from music to language to arts to how to manage their own life situations differently. Like the manna, the well or the water-giving rock, these are the miracles which enrich our children’s lives. For many of our children, it will be the experience of an extended time without the electronics and other comforts (real or imagined) that will provide them with the greatest growth, so that they may return home with a greater appreciation for the real miracles, which surround them daily.
Having been the Rabbi/Chaplain at Yawgoog Scout Reservation for 17 summers now, I have seen these miracles occur. Despite every imaginable challenge, I have watched young people grow in the most amazing ways; perhaps the greatest of these is in learning to become a “mensch.” Despite everything their lives throw at them, they become wiser, kinder, more tolerant individuals by virtue of their journey through the world of camp.
So, as you prepare your child for summer camp, take a moment to remember that we are all campers in this life. Give thanks for the guides and teachers you and your children have met – and will meet – along the way. Give thanks for the challenges, for they, too, teach and guide each of us. And give thanks for the nourishing “manna,” the sustaining wells, and all of the miracles great and small that accompany the journey.
RABBI SOL GOODMAN is known around Rhode Island in many different roles. He writes here as Rabbi/Senior Chaplain at Yawgoog Scout Reservation in Rockville, RI.