Please enjoy a D’var Torah this week from veteran staff member Rabbi Rob Kahn. Rob served as a Rabbi of Beth El Synagogue in Minnetonka, MN, for sixteen years before making aliyah in August, 2008. Now the Academic Director of Young Judea Year Course, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife Camille and their three children Avinoam (Nivonim 2010), Dahlia (Nivonim 2013), and Elle (Nivonim 2016). Since 2008, Rob has spent his full summers at Ramah, primarily serving as a mentor to counselors as they plan programs with Judaic content for their campers.
by Rabbi Rob Kahn
Though the medical community hasn’t reached a consensus on many issues, there is 100% agreement that sleep is important. Have you ever been to the doctor for any kind of ailment, where the doctor advises: And make sure you don’t get very much sleep!?
Parshat Vayishlach describes a sleepless night for Jacob. Why can’t Jacob sleep? Before we learn more about it, feel free to reflect or share: What causes you to have sleepless nights?
Jacob’s sleepless night seems to be caused by anxiety. He has been away from Eretz Yisrael, the home of his parents Rivka and Yitzhak and brother Esav. He’s gone for 20 years. God has told him it’s time to return, and it’s not easy for Jacob. He’s been away a long time. He ran away in a panic. He left as a single man with a stolen birthright. He’s now married to four women, has a dozen children, tons of goats, rams, camels, and hasn’t been able to forget the sibling rivalry that caused him to flee.
What’s it like to return to your community after such a long hiatus? Now that we have 13 and 25-year Nivonim reunions, we could ask those camp alumni what it was like the night before coming back to camp after so many years. Did they sleep? Was there anxiety? Did they wonder: “What will camp be like so many years later? What will my old edah-mates be like? How much have they changed? How much have I changed?”
Campers returning year after year also have a sleepless night before camp begins. It’s excitement tinged with anxiety. “Did I pack everything I need? Will I like my cabin? Have my friends changed? How much have I changed?”
If you think about it, the experience at camp is bracketed by sleepless nights. As I mentioned, the night before camp begins is filled with excitement and anxiety. But the last night of camp can also be sleepless. Many campers take the "I need to experience every last waking moment at camp before going home, so why would I waste it sleeping?” approach.
And what about those nights between the sleepless brackets? Here I can speak personally. I sleep really soundly while at Ramah Wisconsin. Do you sleep soundly at camp? Is it the fresh air of the Northwoods, the long and active days? Or is it something more unique to the special and sacred atmosphere of summer camp? Feel free to reflect or share: Why do you think sleep at camp is so restful?
Returning to the story of our ancestor Jacob, we should notice that the Torah reports to us the dream-filled night as Jacob leaves Israel, and the sleepless wrestling during the night he returns to Israel. What does the Torah want us to learn? Journeys are important, even if we may lose a little sleep over the journey. A change in atmosphere is important. The change provides stimulation that causes growth. As an example, parents often report that their babies learned to walk or speak their first words when on vacation or when away from the home setting.
Every summer at camp, someone discovers a hidden talent- whether it be art, sport, Torah, drama, etc. The change in scenery enabled it to be discovered.
So it is with Jacob. He emerges from his night-time wrestling with a better understanding of himself, more secure in his identity. As the Torah reports in the very next passage: ויבא יעקב שלם- and Jacob arrived back in Eretz Yisrael whole, complete, at peace with himself. Depending on your perspective, it’s not easy leaving camp for 10 months of the year, or it’s not easy leaving home for 2 months of the year- but it’s worth it as the annual journey helps us to grow, discover more about ourselves, and reach for our potential.