During three nights over the past week-and-a-half, I sat in a room at different congregations in Chicago having individual conversation with eager, enthusiastic young adults. Partly nervous, partly excited, each one had their own story to tell. While most of the narratives I heard had many individual elements, they were all united by a single characteristic: a passionate love for their Jewish summer home: Camp Ramah in Wisconsin. It is junior counselor interview season, and Jacob Cytryn (A huge Mazal Tov to Tamar and Jacob, by the way, on the birth of their son!) and I get the privilege and pleasure of listening to people talk about all the ways they love camp:
“Camp changed my life!”
“Camp made me who I am today!”
“Because of camp, I chose one college over another because there is a better Jewish community there.”
“I am going to Israel for a gap year program because of the Israelis I met at camp.”
“My best friends in the world are from camp.”
“I got so much from camp and now it is my turn to give back and to give to the next group of Ramahniks.”
You can’t help but walk home with a smile on your face at the end of such days. They are long and listening is an exhausting activity if done well; yet, it is also exceptionally filling for my own soul and reinforcing for a sense of hope for the future of the Jewish People.
Vayakhel speaks of the building of the Mishkan, the portable Tabernacle, where Israel encountered God while traveling in Sinai. For the past few weeks, we learned of the mitzvot associated with building and we heard God dictate the design, appearance, specifications, and procedures for that building. For the next two weeks, we read about the actual construction and completion of The Sacred Space. There, we are told:
קְחוּ מֵאִתְּכֶם תְּרוּמָה, לַיהוָה, כֹּל נְדִיב לִבּוֹ, יְבִיאֶהָ אֵת תְּרוּמַת יְהוָה: זָהָב וָכֶסֶף, וּנְחֹשֶׁת.
Take from among you gifts to the Lord; everyone whose heart moves them shall bring them, gifts for the Lord... Exodus 35:5
וְכָל-חֲכַם-לֵב, בָּכֶם, יָבֹאוּ וְיַעֲשׂוּ, אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָה.
And let all among you who are skilled come and make all that the Lord has commanded.
The gifts to which these verses refer are not only “things,” such as gold and silver, cloths, etc, but personal, individual gifts - the skills that they have as craftspeople, as artists, as creators. The verses refer to the specific items and structures to be built. When the Torah here says, “...all that the Lord has commanded,” it is referring to these specific things. At the end of the two week process, there will be a new building, a new meeting place, and a new relationship between B’nai Yisrael and God.
During this period, we are in the process of the building of our own mikdash me’at, our personal small sanctified space. This year, we are not building new buildings but we are building new souls, those of our campers and those of our staff. We are building the next generation of Jewish lay and professional leaders and the next generations of participants in Jewish life. The high school seniors, the college and graduate students, and the post-university veteran staff are all coming and bringing their own unique gifts to the endeavor and they are coming to make “...all that God commanded:” to learn and teach, to preserve and to do, and to uphold” future Jews and themselves. Their stories may be similar but they are individual gifts. And whether or not they articulate it, they bring these gifts out of love not just for Camp but for Judaism and the Jewish people as a whole.
This summer, we look forward to watching everyone, camper and staff member alike, bring their individual and special gifts to the construction of our Divine summer home on the shores of Lake Buckatabon.
What special gifts are you bringing to your community to inspire more contact with God and the world? Something to think about at your Shabbat Table.
כן יהי רצון