Maya Zinkow is a lifelong Ramahnik, originally from Columbus, OH, and three-time Rosh Aidah. She just completed a wonderful summer as Rosh Machon and recently began her studies for the rabbinate at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York City. Reflections on Parashat Ki Tavo by Maya Zinkow
At this time of year, our hearts and our minds are turned towards t’shuva (repentance). We process, look internally, seek forgiveness and healing, and look forward to fresh starts and new beginnings. The sound of the shofar each morning of this month of Elul stirs in us that familiar desire to bring our best selves into the new year before us. The opening aliyah (section) of this week’s parashah (Torah reading), though, brings us to another place and time: Pesach (Passover).
As Moses continues to relay a variety of laws related to entering into and nurturing the Land of Israel, we have in Parashat Ki Tavo an instruction to bring the first fruits of the land to Jerusalem every year – what we now observe as the holiday of Shavuot – and recite a passage familiar to anyone who has sat at a Seder in springtime:
“A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous. And the Egyptians dealt ill with us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage. And we cried unto God, the God of our ancestors, and God heard our voice, and saw our affliction, and our toil, and our oppression. And God brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders” (Deuteronomy 26: 5-8)
These familiar lines bring us mentally back to springtime, to cleaning, to ridding ourselves of physical and spiritual chametz (leavening). When we read the recitation this week, we may find ourselves in different emotional or physical places than last April, perhaps more able to appreciate the wonder and miracle of yitziyat mitzrayim, of leaving Egypt and the burden of oppression.
At this season, we hear and feel the echo of Pesach cleaning as we strive to rid ourselves of our bad habits and negative behaviors, but ultimately the more important goal is to bring our best selves forward, to offer the finest fruits we can before God and our loved ones.
At the end of every camp season, we face the challenge of integrating all the magic that happens over the course of the summer into our new year. For campers, this may mean keeping in touch with friends, bringing home new rituals or traditions we cherish at camp, or holding onto singular, beautiful memories of days spent in the Northwoods. For staff, we strive to integrate our working experiences of the summer into other environments, apply camp’s endless wealth of lessons elsewhere in our lives, and step into more leadership roles on campuses and in our work. This integration of camp’s abundant gifts into lives at home is essential to maintaining the wholeness of our identities, of our camp community, and to our ultimate goals as an institution. What good is a summer at camp if we do not allow it to change us for the better, allowing us to see familiar pieces of our lives with fresh eyes?
The recitation of the Pesach story that we will recount tomorrow during services serves as a reminder of how much we are able to grow even in the span of just a few months. In this season of turning our hearts towards each other and to God, we are given the gift of heightened senses to the miracles of daily life and relationships. Indeed, Moshe says the same of the Israelites; that God’s heroic might in bringing us out of Egypt passed unseen and uncelebrated until the next generation could fully appreciate its significance:
“You have seen all that God did before your eyes in the land of Egypt unto Pharaoh, and unto all his servants, and unto all his land; the great trials which your eyes saw, the signs and those great wonders; but God has not given you a heart to know, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, until this day” (Deuteronomy 29: 1-3)
As you prepare for this Shabbat and for Rosh Hashana around the corner, think of the ways each summer at camp has helped shape you or your family, perhaps allowing you to see each other with fresher eyes and fuller hearts. May this be God’s will as we prepare to enter a new year full of abundance.