Please enjoy a d’var Torah this week from Tali (Ribnick) Baruch. Tali spent 12 summers at camp as a camper, counselor and Rosh Eidah. She currently works in healthcare IT and lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with her husband, Adam and son, Matan.
The Journey to You: Reflections on Sukkot
by Tali Baruch
I, unabashedly, love Sukkot. I love the crisp fall air, the colorful leaves, and “sukkah soup” – doesn’t everyone’s mom make “sukkah soup”? I love the change of pace it offers – the reprieve from the intensity of the yamim noraim (High Holy Days) and, I’ll be honest, I love the shorter time in shul after a long couple of weeks. Sukkot is a breath of fresh air. Literally.
In that sense, it’s not so different from camp. Camp is the reprieve after a long winter. One that was especially needed, and so sorely missed this year. Camp is the fresh air we crave to refresh our souls and reignite our enthusiasm. There are some obvious parallels between Sukkot and camp: both camp and Sukkot offer us some grounding – a peeling away of the lavishes we enjoy the rest of the year; a time to get back to the basics of ourselves and our relationships.
In parashat Massei – which we typically read at camp – we recount the Israelites’ trek through the desert in remarkably specific detail. Early on in their journey to peoplehood, the Israelites leave a place called סֻּכֹּ֑ת, or Sukkot and settled in Eitam, in Hebrew, אֵתָ֔ם.
וַיִּסְע֖וּ מִסֻּכֹּ֑ת וַיַּחֲנ֣וּ בְאֵתָ֔ם׃
They set out from Sukkot, and encamped at Eitam, at the edge of the wilderness. (Numbers 33:6)
When my husband and I got engaged, in a sukkah, Rabbi Alexander Davis of Beth El in Minneapolis shared a different interpretation of this verse. Although אֵתָ֔ם is typically translated as the name of a location, he suggested that one can also read it as אָתֶם, meaning the plural “you” in Hebrew. In other words, passing through Sukkot turned a group of individual former slaves into a people, a collective “you.” Camp has a similar impact on us as Sukkot does in this verse: camp turns a group of individuals into a lifelong community. The summers – and our years at camp – inevitably end, but the friendships we build do not.
I haven’t spent a summer at Camp Ramah since 2013, but still, during these unsettling months, I’ve turned to my camp friends more than ever. Regular Zoom hangouts or workouts, text threads and phone calls have kept us connected. Spread across the country, we find our home and feel settled with each other.
This year, we’ve all grown accustomed to using technology to virtually share space. Have a meal in the sukkah “with” your cabin-mate a few states over or shake the lulav “with” your dance partner from your Nivo play. The Zohar teaches us to invite ushpizin or guests to our sukkot — typically our biblical forefathers and mothers. One might say this tradition is the original “virtual hangout.” We invite people to our sukkah who can’t be physically present but still enhance our celebration. May this Sukkot be one of breaking down the barrier of geography to be with those most important to us. May it be one of finding the אָתֶם – our group identity – that each of us create at camp.