Please enjoy a d’var Torah this week from Rabbi Josh Warshawsky. A nationally touring Jewish musician, songleader, and composer, Josh seeks to build intentional praying communities, and travels to synagogues, camps and schools across the country sharing his music and teachings on prayer. He is originally from Chicago, and has released three albums of Jewish music, with a 4th on the way in 2021. Josh’s melodies are written intentionally to express the deep meaning of the words of our tradition. Josh was ordained by the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles. For more information check out www.joshwarshawsky.com

Seeing Ourselves as Giants: Reflections on Parashat Sh’lach L’cha
by Rabbi Josh Warshawsky

A Shabbat at camp is always unique, but there is something extra special about the first Shabbat. Throughout the first week of camp, we spend time meeting the other campers and staff in our eidah, getting settled into our cabins, and starting our activities. The rhythm and routine of camp begins, and a frenetic energy fills the kikar for the first time in 10 months. But on that first Friday, we put the routine on hold. Hundreds of campers and staff flock to the kikar before lunch for our first kikar dancing of the summer, the whole camp fills up with the smell of pizza and chocolate milk, and a palpable feeling of joy and excitement pervades the air.

That first Friday night is the first time we gather together as one camp community. Hundreds of smiling faces sing together as the sun sets over Lake Buckatabon. The campers swarm in from their various eidah meeting places, and as we sit in our big concentric circles on the lower kikar, we are led by Nivonim campers in Kabbalat Shabbat, the call-and-response chanting of the first chapter of Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs), and Ma’ariv. It is the first of many opportunities for individual campers to shine over the course of the summer. That is something I will miss dearly this summer.

At Camp Ramah, we try to make every camper feel like a giant, soaring on eagle’s wings. We encourage each individual to grow and try something new, whether that be playing a new instrument, joining the basketball team, reciting lines in the play, or braving new elements on the ropes course. The magic of Ramah is in the way that we view each individual, and the way we encourage each person to view themselves. 

In this week’s parashah, Sh’lach L’cha, Moses sends spies to scout out the land of Israel. They return with mixed messages and lots of doubts. The land is lush and flowing with milk and honey, but it is filled with giants! They say:

וְשָׁ֣ם רָאִ֗ינוּ אֶת־הַנְּפִילִ֛ים בְּנֵ֥י עֲנָ֖ק מִן־הַנְּפִלִ֑ים וַנְּהִ֤י בְעֵינֵ֙ינוּ֙ כַּֽחֲגָבִ֔ים וְכֵ֥ן הָיִ֖ינוּ בְּעֵינֵיהֶֽם׃

“We saw the Nephilim there—the Anakites children of the Nephilim—and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them (Numbers 13:33).”

The Kotzker Rabbi, Rav Menachem Mendle of Kotzk, teaches that this was the big sin of the spies. It is understandable that they thought of themselves as grasshoppers, but how could they possibly know what the Nephilim thought of them? And how could they cajole the people to see themselves in that way too? There is no way to know how the other may view you, and so all you can do is worry about and work on how you view yourself.

Believe that you are a giant, and so you will look in the eyes of others too. That’s what we try to instill in every Ramahnik. I would not be the person, the rabbi, the musician, the teacher I am today were it not for my 20 summers at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin. Every summer I was encouraged by my counselors, my rashei eidah, my peers, and my superiors to aspire to be the best version of myself, and to believe that I could inspire others as well.

On this Shabbat as we celebrate so far from each other and throughout the summer, I hope we find ways to build each other up from afar until we can return to the Kikar flowing with pizza and chocolate milk, where we always see each other like giants.