Grant Yourself a Soft Landing: On Saying Goodbye

Another summer has come and gone.

How do we transition from camp back into the rest of our lives? Consider for insight a poignant moment in our story this week:

“Then God said to Moses: Avenge the people of Israel against the Midianites, and afterwards you shall be gathered to your people” (Num. 31:1-2).

R’ Isaac Abravanel asked appropriately why these closing words were relevant in this verse. What does a war of vengeance have to do with the timing of Moshe’s death? For one thing, Moshe was already told when he was going to die (Num. 27:12), so why bring it up again and why in connection to this battle charge?

Here is Abravanel’s answer:

God saw Moshe moving hastily, thinking that his time was soon approaching. So God told him that the end wasn’t coming so immediately, giving him one more job to do to stave off the end, for there is still opportunity in the day, and it’s not yet time to go home. When Moshe is ready, at the right time, he’ll return to his people.

How do you respond when an end approaches, especially the end of a journey with a people you came to love, with whom you struggled and grew and adventured through the wilderness? Ends have a way of leaving as abruptly as they came. There is often a “that’s it?” emptiness in the end, making transitions that much more unsettling.

This a parent knows too well, watching your child grow, wanting to hold onto each milestone just a little bit longer. It’s what an artist knows when she finishes her tapestry, wanting just another moment with her muse before letting go her work.

This is the feeling I get every summer when camp ends, wanting so desperately to hold onto those sacred moments of connection, of independence, of growth, of love, of true community in its purest form.

I imagine Moshe, knowing his time was running out, racing around as Abravanel suggested, frantically squeezing in every last goodbye as the clock ticked on his life. So God gives him a hidden gift, an extension on his task sheet. With one more major job to do, he can land more softly, say his goodbyes, and take the time he needs to make that transition and be ready. What a gift God gave Moshe: the gift of a soft landing from this life into the next.

Since my own days as a Ramah camper, I have found meaning in a classic Israeli song by Rami Kleinstein (and not only because of his name): “Take your time, the world will still be waiting outside,” he sang. It was aspirational at best, knowing as we all do that time is not for the taking, rather for the passing, and we try to hold it back only to find we’ve missed the moment entirely. Would that we all had the gift of a soft landing, an invitation from God to slow down and experience the transition. Some of us handle endings with that same haste we observed in Moshe, racing through the end to avoid the pain of goodbye. It seems counter-intuitive to move through it more slowly, but our lesson from parashat Mattot is precisely that: take your time, perhaps the world will be waiting outside.

As camp closes down today for the 2016 season, I am seeing the expressions of anxious transitions: our campers have grown this summer in visible degrees, marching independently around our campground, catching the bus each morning with confidence, expressing themselves vulnerably in their artwork and taking risks with the support of their friends – a true expression of haveirut, friendship. A ride like this summer demands a longer transition than a 4:00pm dismissal can afford.

That’s where you come in. Do for your children what God did for Moshe, granting him an extension on his experience to offer him a smoother transition. Of course I’ll suggest you join the Ramah community for our reunions during the year, and you stay in touch with our staff and campers in our schools and synagogues, in person and online. No doubt I’ll recommend you consider returning to this place in 2017. But more immediately than that, invite your children to sing a camp song they learned at your shabbat dinner table this evening. Do one thing with your child this weekend that reminds them of their time at Ramah. Give them one more task, one more memory, to help them slow down and transition more smoothly to the next thing. It will help them embrace their last experience, and move more calmly into the next.

Grant yourself a soft landing. “There is still opportunity in the day, and it’s not yet time to go home.” We miss your campers already, and we can’t wait to see them next summer!

Shabbat Shalom with love from Ramah,

Rabbi Rami

Categories: Divrei Torah, Mattot