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There is something very fulfilling about successfully completing a project after following clear, step-by-step instructions. Perhaps you are assembling a piece of furniture, or installing a new electronic device. Perhaps you are trying a new, detailed recipe, or completing a complex assignment for school. You start with specific materials, you are instructed to manipulate the materials in particular ways, and eventually you arrive at a desired end-result. 

This week’s parasha, Vayikra, is replete with details about the offering of sacrifices. There are instructions for the people of Israel on what type of offering to bring for various life circumstances and there are instructions for the kohanim, the priests, on what to do with these offerings. Upon initial reading, the details are harrowing and the whole endeavor is repellent. However, after taking a second look, I see that on some deep level, this system may have been extremely comforting. In the context of a culture in which people were desensitized to the slaughter of animals, it must have been freeing to know that a certain kind of sin, or certain feeling of well-being, should be followed by a certain prescribed sacrificial action. Reinforcing the comfort that comes from having a clear set of directions for a variety of circumstances was the fact that these actions were prescribed by God. This system must have created a sense of: “Although I find myself in this new or unusual life experience, I know exactly what my next steps will be, and I know that fulfilling these steps will be pleasing to God.” How liberating!

I often yearn for such a clear, detailed manual on how to live life, and even more specifically, on how to be in relationship with God. 

As we know, however, in our particular context, life’s messy moments are not followed by a prescribed set of steps in order to repair, or respond to, each situation. And while the Torah provides a rich framework for living, making those deeply informed, value-based decisions about how to live a holy life is not always accompanied by a clear “how to” manual.  While I am grateful that we do not live in an era of animal sacrifices, I do at times desire the simple reassurance that these practices may have brought our ancestors.

Yet, knowing that such assurances are not possible, how can we support our ability to make choices that are steeped in our tradition and values; that emphasize our responsibilities to one another while also building our individual relationships with God? Doing this requires work. It requires the work of building holy communities; the work of surrounding ourselves with teachers of Torah and teachers of life; the work of engaging in joyful, music-filled, art-inspired text study and prayer; the work of recognizing the holiness and wonder in the physical world around us. 

It is for these reasons that I feel blessed to be working for Camp Ramah in Wisconsin. Camp is the ideal place to put this framework into practice. It is a place of fun and holiness; a place of living and learning. It is a privilege to be part of it.