Upward-Flowing Water, or The Two Directions of Holiness

I love when language plays tricks on us. “Did you ever see a cake walk?” If you’re thinking of the 19th century dance, you may have a different answer than if you are imagining a pastry with legs.

Sometimes the implications of a wordplay are spiritually significant. Our parashah opens this week: “You shall be holy, kee (Hebrew) I, the Lord, am holy” (Lev. 19:2). Our rabbis long ago taught that the word kee means (at least) four things. In this case, the verse could say “be holy, because I am holy” or “be holy, so that I may be holy.” Is it our desire to emulate God that motivates us to do good in the world, or is it our personal purification that brings about God’s holy presence?

The Talmud (Hagigah 20b) recounts a technical debate about a three-tiered river tributary where only the middle pool of water has enough to constitute a kosher mikveh, but where all three are connected by a constant rainwater-drip. The rabbis asked whether immersion in either the top or bottom levels would constitute a kosher immersion, made kosher only by the connection to a sufficient amount of water above or below it. It is a given that downward flowing water can be considered part of the pool below it. But can water trickling down initiate upward influence?

Our approach at Camp Ramah recognizes this dual directionality of influence. Of course we know that a positive Jewish role model can work wonders for a child’s growth, independence, and Jewish identity. But we are also inspired by our campers each and every day, and our counselors grow as individuals from their experiences as Jewish leaders. Above all else, it is the people we meet in all corners of our community that bring out the best in us. At Camp Ramah we strive to be holy, because and so that we see the holiness in one another.

Categories: Divrei Torah, Kedoshim