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Parshat Balak

07/15/2022 01:46:50 PM


Rabbi Hearshen

We are back in Brookhaven after a month away at camp and ready to move full speed ahead. Camp was an incredible treat and wonderful experience. One might question the wisdom of taking “vacation” at a Jewish summer camp where one is employed. The days are very long, beginning at 7:00 am and often not finishing our work until 10:00 pm. There are times when I’m working past midnight.

Here’s why I pay little attention to such questions. When kids arrived on the first day of camp and saw me at the luggage drop off site at the Atlanta Airport, they often remarked “Rabbi Josh” with a smile on their face. I had worked with them last year and now they were back again. When a rabbinical student had questions about the life of a rabbi and issues with counseling, I was able to sit with him, answer all his questions, and provide guidance on how rabbis counsel those who come to them. When the camp mashgiach came down with COVID, I was asked to supervise the kitchen for his five days of quarantine, and was gifted the opportunity to work with numerous staff members who had never met a rabbi before. When a group of students (entering 10th grade) were walking to the high ropes course (the Odyssey) and talking to their counselors about how they didn’t want to do it because they were scared, I said “if you’ll go up… I’ll go up…”. We went up. When our oldest group, entering 11th grade, had a casino night and I was asked to deal black jack, they were able to relate to a rabbi in a way they never imagined. When the Highland Park shooting took place on July 4th, I was able to console the campers from that city and help them to grieve the unthinkable.

Each day and night, Carrie and I sat with friends who are struggling with the same Jewish dilemmas that face all modern Jews in America. We shared in our collective hunger for deeper Jewish connections and our work in forming greater Jewish communities. We talked about our kids who are growing up in different ways than we ourselves grew up. We watched as our non-camper age kids (Galit in our case), ran around camp and made our hearts race as they inched closer and closer to danger. We watched from afar as Ayelet starred in one of the camp plays, חנות קטנה של טריפות, Little Shop of Horrors (in Hebrew). We watched from afar as she reunited with summer friends and grew as a person and as a Jew. We had the opportunity to spend time together with friends on our days off and to celebrate Shabbat with people we don’t get to see all that often.

You see, while camp certainly doesn’t provide me with any rest, it recharges my rabbinic battery and energizes my soul year after year. It pushes me to never be content with where our congregation is, and to work to make our community even greater than it already is. Camp is not a vacation for me so much as it’s a place where I get to further my mission and job as a rabbi to the Jewish people. It’s a place where I get to help shape the next generation of our people, and to bring new ways of seeing the rabbinate and Jewish life back to OVS. So, I’m exhausted in every way, shape and form. But I’m also reignited and pumped and ready to push ahead into the end of this Jewish year and into the next.

This week, as we gather to read Parshat Balak, we’ll recall the story of the wicked Balak who was determined to harm our people by way of hiring Balaam, a professional “blesser and curser” to curse us. We’ll recall the donkey that spoke back to Balaam and prevented him from cursing our people. We’ll recall this story, and at the end of the story, we’ll hear the words "מה טובו אוהליך יעקב משכנותיך ישראל/How wonderful are your tents people of Jacob (us) and your dwelling places o’ Israel.” An outsider said these words to us. A person who did not know the joys of Judaism and the peoplehood of the Jewish people. A gentile reminded us we have a treasure, and that treasure is something to be celebrated and protected.

We often take our Jewishness for granted. We allow ourselves to be Jewish by accident or by way of just going through the motions. Our Jewishness is a gift. It’s a gift to be in a relationship with God. It’s a gift to light Shabbat candles. It’s a gift to eat challah. It’s a gift to put on tefillin. It’s a gift to observe Yom Kippur. It’s a gift to be Jewish. We shouldn’t need anyone to remind us of the blessing we were either born with or chose to accept. We shouldn’t need reminding, but we often do need such nudges. Camp for me is such a nudge. It reminds me that being a rabbi is a blessing. It reminds me that I have so much to offer. It reminds me that being Jewish is awesome, and that as a people, we have so much to give to and receive from the world.

Thu, August 11 2022 14 Av 5782