D’var Torah: Parshat Beha’alotcha – What are we carrying with us?
One of the great perks of being a camp director is sending your kids to camp. Eight full weeks of fun, community and experiential Jewish learning. To say we were looking forward to summer is an understatement. Now, all plans have come to a halt, and like every other parent, we are left to navigate this unknown summer abyss.
I have spent countless hours writing down ideas, making spreadsheets, and googling Amazon products, in an effort to regain some control over what feels like three more out-of-control months ahead. This work is easy because it is tangible and practical. I deeply admire the creative at-home schedules other parents have designed. Yet, for me, I have come to realize that there is deeper, and more difficult work, to be done if I am truly going to begin summer with the sense of structured calm it requires.
Like the Israelites, I feel as if I am wandering in a wilderness of uncertainty and deeply missing what “used to be.” All of my spreadsheeting cannot soothe the deep unrest I feel inside.
In Beha’alotcha, we read that the cries and complaints of the Israelites are interrupted by verses asking for God’s presence to fight alongside them, which happen to be the same words that bookend our Torah service.
Before we remove the Torah from the ark, we read: “Now it was, whenever the ark was to march on, Moses would say: arise o God, that your enemies may scatter, that those who hate you may flee before you!” (Numbers 10:35) The Torah is then removed from the safety of the ark to wander until it is once again returned to its resting spot. We then say, “And when it would rest, he would say: Return, O God, to the countless divisions of Israel.” (Numbers 10:36)
These pesukim (verses) offer us insight into battling our emotions at this time. Ramban states that these verses prove the Israelites were just as capable of running toward the ark as they were capable of turning away. Similarly, I am asking myself if I am running towards or running away from this moment. Do my endless Google searches better help me understand my need for control? Are they bringing me closer to inner peace or stirring up more anxiety? I wonder what would happen if I let go a little and let my children take the lead?
Ellen Frankel writes, “When the people wandered, vulnerable and irresolute through the desert, they needed proof that God would protect them. Proclaiming, ‘Arise, Adonai, so that your enemies be scattered…,’ they turned the ark into a battering ram and God into their secret weapon.” Even in social isolation, we are not alone. Centering ourselves with prayer, mediation and community are powerful tools for confronting our need for stability.
The image of returning the Torah to the ark is one of calm, protection and a readiness to emerge without fear of wandering. In my endless effort to recreate previous summers where the days and minutes were filled for me and my children, I have not yet paused to reflect on how this summer can be a new opportunity for us. We do not know where summer will lead and we hope to see the promised land of camp again soon. In the meantime, may be embrace the pathway ahead with serenity and optimism. Shabbat Shalom.