Please enjoy a d’var Torah this week from Shira Forester. Shira graduated last May from the University of Wisconsin- Madison, where she earned a B.S. in Rehabilitation Psychology and a Certificate in Jewish Studies. She currently lives in Madison, WI, where she spends most of her time working as a preschool teacher at the Waisman Early Childhood Center. Shira has attended Camp Ramah in Wisconsin every summer since Garinim, and looks forward to returning for her 6th year on Tzevet as the Rosh Eidah for Garinim and Halutzim.
Channeling Our Energy
by Shira Forester
Many are familiar with the story of the impatient and irritable Israelites in this week’s parashah, who abandon their faith in God and worship a Golden Calf. We have heard this as a tale of the horrible sin and use it as a reminder never to behave the way those “shameful” Israelites do in the desert.
However, might we not have done the same thing? Can we really blame them?
I would argue that the Golden Calf was not created because the Israelites were angry or disobedient. Rather, their actions were inspired by the absence of leadership who could help channel their energy elsewhere. When a group of people finds itself isolated and in need of direction, they often feel desperate for any figure of leadership to guide them. It should not come as much of a surprise that, while Moses was spending so long on Mount Sinai, they would turn to the next most obvious “leader,” Aaron, to ask for guidance, which led to the creation of the Golden Calf.
If it seems clear that the Israelites would turn to something negative to channel their fear and restlessness, then why doesn’t the all-knowing God send Moses down sooner? The same God who created the entire world in seven days could have probably figured out a way to get Moses back down the mountain more quickly, to avoid a situation such as this one. I believe that God keeps Moses so long in order to teach us a valuable lesson about the power a unified group of people can have. While the story of the Golden Calf shows the possibility of negative consequences when a group is without a leader, the Tanach (Bible) also provides examples of the people rallying behind leaders like Moses and Joshua for good.
When I think about leadership at camp, I think about how our hanhallah (leadership team) and our tzevet (staff) work to create intentional structures and routines to point our campers towards positive possibilities. Each group at camp, whether it be the tzrif (cabin), the eidah (age group), or the room of the chadar ochel (dining hall), is guided by its leaders towards thoughtful activities to channel our energy. Tzevet even plan programs such as late-night peulot (activities), crazy flash mobs, or intense water fights that feel wild and spontaneous. Campers feel supported and guided in their creativity and expression. The best part happens as the summer unfolds and our wonderful staff gets to see the campers step up and take on leadership roles of their own.