This week please enjoy a D’var Torah from Rosh Solelim 2013, Aaron Magid.  Aaron is a recent graduate of the University of Michigan where he concentrated in Political Science and Arabic.  A long-time Ramahnik, Aaron lived in Israel for two years before college.

We descended to the shore of Lake Buckatabon wearing lifejackets and carrying kayaks over our heads. A group of Nivonim campers, including myself, prepared for an epic peulah (activity)–Water Capture the Flag. I vividly remember the sense of excitement in the air. Suddenly, in the midst of the strategizing, one of our counselors pulled out a Sim Shalom Siddur and turned to Tehillim Psalm 20 to rally the group before beginning action. In the prayer, King David speaks about receiving divine assistance during a difficult personal moment. Yes, our game where we tossed tennis balls from boats was far from the intensely personal pleas of this prayer. In addition to being an ocean away from the land of Israel our game was also thousands of years apart from biblical David. Nonetheless, at this moment – in a strange way – we achieved kedushah (holiness).

One of the jewels of the Torah is this week’s portion Kedoshim, especially chapter 19. In this week’s reading, we depart from the extremely technical portions of the book of Vayikra (Leviticus) labeling the different sacrificial options and priestly attire. Instead, we focus on the term Kadosh, commonly translated as holiness. The Torah never defines for the reader Kadosh, but rather utilizes a series of concrete examples to guide us to the true meaning.  Verse 36 says, “You shall have an honest balance, honest weights.” Holiness is understood in the chapter as establishing fair scales when trading. The ability to take something that is very mundane and connect it to God demonstrates holiness. In this case, weights become holy as they are tied with appropriate ethical behavior in business. Similar to the example of weights, our relatively ordinary camp activity achieved special holiness by connecting this 21st century game to our storied tradition through the insertion of an important biblical passage.

Another element of holiness is a famous Talmudic Midrash in the tractate of Shabbat that recounts how Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai buried himself in a cave so he could maximize his Torah study and prayer. At first glance, this action appears to demonstrate the ideal Jew – someone who fully devotes himself to God by prioritizing his spirituality. However, when Rabbi Shimon first left the cave after 12 years, he harshly criticized a man for plowing the field– engaging in his worldly pursuit. Immediately, a divine voice admonishes Rabbi Shimon and announces that he must return to the cave. Only later, after further contemplation, is Rabbi Shimon able to appreciate an elderly man who observes the Shabbat outside of the cave in the real world. Our Torah portion appears to reject the first model of Rabbi Shimon isolating himself in a cave through the second verse of chapter 19 stating, “Kedoshim Tihiu” You (plural) shall be holy. Only with others can we achieve holiness. In a similar vein, part of what made this moment holy was how our counselors brought together the entire age group through this peulah (activity). The sense of unity with all of our friends stands in stark contrast to Rabbi Shimon’s isolation in the cave.

Finally, the parshah continues with a series of laws explaining how to live a holy life. In some ancient cultures, religious ritual and social dynamics remained fully separate. This is not the case in Parshat Kedoshim. In verse three we learn both about observing Shabbat and honoring our parents.  The juxtaposition of these different types of commandments—between God and one’s fellow man– is critical.  If an individual focuses all of his or her energy on only one aspect of the Mitzvot then he or she misses the larger picture. This verse reminds us that one practices his or her religion both in prayer and during a basketball game. When our counselor read Psalm 20 on the lake’s shore, he demonstrated that the siddur’s place is not restricted to the synagogue.

When I think back to the game of Water Capture the Flag and this week’s parshah, I understand what made my time at Camp Ramah so special or kadosh. When we integrate Hebrew into the Aidah’s performance of Lion King we transform this Broadway experience into a teachable Jewish lesson about the vibrancy of Hebrew in the contemporary era. We see holiness through the power of community and feel it by coming together as a camp at services on Friday night. By learning from my counselors when I was a camper along with teachers, social workers, and other veteran staff members, I hope to continue to find and facilitate moments of holiness.

Shabbat Shalom.