Please enjoy a d’var Torah this week from Liat Wasserman, who will be Rosh Shoafim (entering 8th grade) this summer. Liat spent 7 summers as a chanicha (camper) at camp, a summer in Israel and Poland on Ramah Seminar, and 3 summers as a madricha (counselor). She grew up in Northbrook, IL and will be graduating from George Washington University this spring where she is majoring in international affairs and minoring in Hebrew, Arabic, and journalism. She really can’t wait to play Bananagrams a lot this kayitz (summer).
Reflections on Parashat Tzav
by Liat Wasserman
One of the many legacies of growing up and working at Ramah over the years is that I’ve been taught to look for meaning in things that appear to be pretty clear at first glance. You could chalk it up to hours spent eating pretzels and debating with my eidah-mates (peers) every Shabbat about questions like “Am I an American Jew or am I a Jewish American?” It’s a skill that you develop at a camp like ours, and it’s a skill that really helped me with unpacking parashat Tzav. At first glance, it appears to be a parashah mostly about ritual offerings/sacrifices. However, when we look more closely at some of the distinctions about how these processes are managed, we’re able to learn a bit about intentionality and the ways in which we build community at Ramah (even without ritual sacrifice).
This parashah distinguishes between what is done for the sake of purity or cleanliness, tahor, as opposed to what is done in the name of holiness, kedushah. These different practices may seem like random technicalities. But upon closer examination I began to see how many of these practices likely exist not due to random detail but because acting with intention is how we sustain traditions, and sustaining traditions is how we build our communities.
In the parashah, there are practices that keep the ritual space pure, or clean. When we think about returning to camp in such a unique set of circumstances, we think extensively about the protocols we’re going to follow that will keep our campers and staff members safe and healthy. It may not be the most exciting thing to imagine as we get closer to returning to camp this summer, but it’s something that we consider with intention nonetheless because we value the wellbeing of everyone who enters our community. Another interpretation of camp as a pure space has to do less with how we keep the space clean, and more with how camp seems to be untouchable. Camp is an enduring space that seems to grow with us no matter what craziness is happening in a given year.
We also have practices and traditions that we have maintained for years because they make camp a holy space, a space of kedushah. In thinking about holy space, our instinct might be to think about spaces where religious rituals take place. Yet when I think about the traditions and everyday moments that make our camp holy or special, I think about the things we do together that make camp feel like the timeless “home away from home” that we miss for the other ten months of the year. This feeling comes in moments like when we welcome Shabbat together in front of the agam (lake), but it also comes in spontaneous moments where we can’t stop laughing at an inside joke from the very first week of the summer. All these moments and traditions, big and small, make camp this special and even holy place.
The divisions between pure and holy may not be as rigid as we might assume from reading parashat Tzav. Instead, we can look at this as a framework through which we embrace the dynamics of camp, and yet another reason to look forward to being back together for another summer of intention, meaning, and lots of fun.