Please enjoy a D’var Torah this week from veteran Rosh Agam Hannah Kreindler. Hannah will be graduating from the University of Michigan this spring with an education degree. She will be returning this summer for her third summer as our waterfront director.
As this Shabbat draws near I sit looking at the sun outside my window. Spring always makes me miss sitting by Lake Buckatabon. As a member of tzevet agam (waterfront staff), my days at camp are spent outside with the sun on my face and the water on my feet. And those of us who have worked on the waterfront can really appreciate the relief of the cool water on a warm, sunny day.
This week’s parsha, Sh’mini, opens with ritual sacrifice in the Mishkan with Aaron and his sons and then works its way through the laws of kashrut. As I put away the Pesach dishes this week, I was excited to return to the rules of kashrut that I’m accustomed to. Not eating this animal or that fish is something that I have known all my life, and so reading about it this Shabbat is familiar and comfortable. And yet, these rules are not what draw my attention this week.
Smack at the beginning of Chapter 10, after being lulled into a sense of ease while reading about sacrifices, the parsha dramatically reports the sudden and unexpected deaths of Aaron’s sons Nadav and Abihu. The Torah tells us that they each took a fire pan and lit it as an offering to the Lord. The fire was “strange” or “alien” and so the Lord consumed them with His own fire. After reading about many successful sacrifices and offerings, the death of Nadav and Abihu strikes a discordant note.
One commentary suggests that they died because they did not consult with their father, the High Priest, and instead made themselves the highest authority. When I read this story I’m reminded again of my work as head of the waterfront at camp – and really the work of all camp staff. The structures and rules that are in place within our camp community, the staff supervision and responsibility, provide a platform for our campers to enjoy all that camp has to offer. We learn from the episode of Aaron’s sons that a framework of rules is essential and can provide more powerful and meaningful experiences. The parasha gives a new perspective and appreciation for the structure and rules of camp, providing so many ways for campers to have fun, develop wonderful friendships and feel totally comfortable in their own Jewish community.