A Little Each Day
It’s hard to believe that our summer at Ramah Day Camp is already over. As I look around camp at the place we have created, all of us together, I find it difficult to believe that only four weeks ago this place didn’t exist, not even in memory. It is true that each summer we re-create camp from the summer before. Ours is a community of memory and re-building, like taking out an old puzzle and redoing it again. When you finish that puzzle, you put it away with the faint recognition that you may one day re-open the box and try it again. It’s the same experience that led our rabbis to say the phrase “hadran alach” after completing the study of a full tractate of Talmud. The phrase means “We will return to you.”
It’s at that moment of packing up a puzzle, of closing a book, that the project truly takes its shape. It is not in the moment that you place the last piece, turn the last page, that you fully grasp the image before you, but in the moment that you remove one to return the pieces to the box. Only in disassembly can we fully appreciate what it took to build the image in the first place.
This understanding has helped me resolve a question at the beginning of parashat Masei, the second of our two portions this week. “Moses recorded the segments of their journeys as directed by the Lord. Their journeys, point by point, were as follows” (Num. 33:2). The two words that appear here to describe what Moses recorded are maseihem, journeys, and motza’eihem, points/segments. Why does the Torah use both of these words when it could easily have conveyed the route with one word?
Rabbi Obadiah Sforno suggested that the Torah listed each step along the way to highlight the Israelite’s success despite how challenging the trip was. Even though they were attacked from point C to point D, the Israelites still made it from point A to their final destination.
Rabbi Samuel ben Meir (Rashbam) suggested a similar explanation with a slightly different nuance. To him the Torah listed each step to highlight the process of Israel’s journey. Yes, the Torah could easily have indicated where they began and where they ended up, but to Rashbam this would have missed the core component of what makes a journey.
When we finish a project, we often don’t see the real growth that occurred. Camp ends, we look back on our experience, and we reflect on a fun few weeks outdoors with our friends. It’s only when we begin to disassemble the experience, one piece at a time, that we truly understand the growth we underwent in the process. By identifying each piece, each day, we embody the process of our development.
In reflecting on camp, the disassembly of our community one piece at a time illuminates for me the growth this community experienced over the last four weeks. The name “day camp” itself calls to mind the daily transformation that you can observe in your campers. Notice the Hebrew they speak, a little more each day. Notice the songs they sing, a little more each day. Notice the spiritual questions they raise about what makes a makom (place) holy, a little more each day. Notice the artwork they have fashioned, a little bit each day. Notice the skills they’ve developed in sports and drama, a little more each day. Notice the confidence they bear and the independence they strut, a little more each day.
Your Ramahniks now hold a piece of this legacy which they’ve collected along the way, a little more each day. As we pack up camp after our first transformative summer, we say hadran alach, we will return to you, Ramah Day Camp. And the next time we do, we’ll remember exactly how we felt at the end of this summer, and the growth we experienced day by day. We’re counting on your campers to help us remember the journey and recreate it, next year and for years to come, as lifelong campers in this story of Ramah.
Todah rabbah for an incredible summer. L’hitraot – we’ll see you next year!!!