Please enjoy a d’var Torah this week from Rosh Nivonim 2018 Daniella Elyashar. Daniella studies Education, History of Israel and Contemporary Judaism at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She has spent four summers at camp as a member of the Mishlachat and was Rosh Machon 2017.

The Responsibilities of Independence: Reflections on Yom HaAtzmaut
by Daniella Elyashar

Fireworks, blow up plastic hammers and sparkling balloons are only some of the best shticks you can find here in Israel on Yom Ha’Atzmaut. Beyond the tacky objects that I seem to buy every year, yesterday was significant because 70 years ago we established our State of Israel. We achieved the unbelievable and gained our independence.

What does it mean to be independent?

in·de·pend·ence: To have the power to do things on your own; to be able to choose your own path without anyone telling you what you can or can’t do; to have the privilege to be heard by others and the ability to act upon those words.

But what happens after we attain our independence?

Not so long ago we celebrated Pesach – a perfect example of the process of achieving independence. After years and years of being slaves in Egypt, we were finally liberated and were able to be called not just an assortment of people, בני ישראל / b’nei yisrael / the children of Israel, but a collected, united nation – עם ישראל / am yisrael / the nation of Israel. With this new prestigious title came different responsibilities that Am Israel discovered as they wandered through the desert and entered the Promised Land.

One of these responsibilities is mentioned in this week’s parashah, Tazria-Metzora. The majority of the parashah deals with the several types of leprosy and lays out how to treat the disease: when one contracts leprosy of the body, for example, the Torah explains she must be distanced from the rest of the people for several days. Interpretations say that leprosy is itself a direct punishment for lashon harah, or speaking negatively about others. And so the person who contracts the disease and is sent away from the camp will essentially be forced to contemplate the reasoning for his separation from the community until being allowed back in. 

This punishment emphasizes the severity of exuding negativity in a community through lashon harah. As an independent nation, Am Yisrael had the freedom to use their values to shape their own community, ensuring that lashon harah would have no place among them.

On Israel’s 70th Yom Ha’Atzmaut, it’s important to remember that achieving independence comes with added responsibilities. To create a community that is respectful, caring and supportive we must ensure that negativity isn’t spread within us. There will always be challenging disagreements and times where the community doesn’t feel strongly connected. But if we encourage direct conversation rather then lashon harah, we may be able to contain our diverse options in a healthy and constructive manner.

At camp, we constantly work to maintain and strengthen our community. Belonging to Camp Ramah in Wisconsin’s community is a huge privilege that also comes with great responsibility.  We shape our community values through our everyday interactions: how we speak to each other, how we find creative solutions and the ways we welcome in new members. In the spirit of celebrating independence and thinking about the responsibilities that come with it, it’s on us to ensure that the camp community continues to grow and succeed in positive and thoughtful ways.