Please enjoy a D’var Torah this week from Aaron Fineberg, Rosh Solelim 2016. Aaron graduated from Brandeis University in December with a degree in Business Administration, and is currently working in mass transportation logistics. A lifelong Ramahnik, Aaron is returning for his sixth summer on staff. Reflections on Parashat Metzora by Aaron Fineberg
Most of this week’s parashah focuses on two sets of laws for the Israelites. One is dealing with the religious states of tahor and tamei, sometimes mistakenly translated as “pure” and “impure,” that determine whether an individual is able to offer a sacrifice in the mishkan (Tabernacle). The other is the skin disease of tzara’at, an ongoing mystery to Bible scholars and medical professionals alike.
Fortunately neither of these two areas of Jewish law will be practically relevant this summer, but the ritual that takes an Israelite from being tamei to being tahor, has echoes in a slightly different type of ritual that both campers and staff undergo to prepare to immerse themselves in the amazing experience we call a summer at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin.
We read in the Torah (Leviticus 14:8):
וְכִבֶּס הַמִּטַּהֵר אֶת-בְּגָדָיו וְגִלַּח אֶת-כָּל-שְׂעָרוֹ, וְרָחַץ בַּמַּיִם וְטָהֵר, וְאַחַר, יָבוֹא אֶל-הַמַּחֲנֶה.
Vechibes hamitaher et-begadav vegilach et-kol-se’aro verachats bamayim vetaher ve’achar yavo el-hamachaneh.
The one to be purified shall wash his clothes, shave off all his hair, and bathe in water; then he shall be pure, and after that he may come into the camp.
Another way to read this verse, in our Ramah context:
“The one to become ready shall finish her schooling for the year, label her clothes, try to get a good night’s sleep, pack a lunch, take a final bath or shower: and after all that they may begin the journey to camp.”
For many campers, the long bus ride north to the beautiful Northwoods of Wisconsin is the first camp experience of the summer. In order to participate, each of us goes through our own ritual and, over the years that we return to camp, that ritual can come to resonate with us as powerfully as those of the Passover Seder, the Kol Nidre liturgy, or opening day of the baseball season might for our parents. Before we can get on the bus, essays, tests and all school work needs to be completed; multiple shopping trips to the nearest mall to procure all things summer must be endured/enjoyed; and, definitely, thanking our parents at least 100 times (per day) for sending us to this camp which becomes our home and community for eight wonderful weeks must be articulated. The day before the bus leaves, the bags are finally closed, and our final rituals commence. Just as the Israelites had to follow certain prescribed rituals in order to be allowed back into their camp, so does the Camp Ramah camper. Though the rationale behind why the Israelite needed to go through this ritual is murky for us, we understand the power and necessity of rituals – practical and symbolic – to help us mark transitions from one state of our year (home) to another (camp).
To some, the bus ride from Midway Airport, the Chicago suburbs, or the Twin Cities, is one of the most sacred days of the summer, and perhaps of the whole year. It is a long and tiring journey full of laughs, cheers and maybe even tears because you know that you are so close to returning to that special place in the middle of the wooded forest of Conover, Wisconsin. I will always remember those bus rides, whether it is sitting and reconnecting with an old friend from prior summers who I hadn’t seen all year, or developing a new friendship with someone who was just starting their own journey in that place I already loved, on the shores of Lake Buckatabon. Either way, those few hours on the bus up to camp, and the days leading up to it, require us all to prepare ourselves, spiritually, mentally, and physically, for the amazing times ahead. This ritual of transition helps us better prepare ourselves to truly experience the sacredness of a summer at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin.