Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Death of Miriam Changes Everything

We learn about Miriam’s death in just one short line, all the Torah tells us is that “Miriam died there, and was buried there”; there are no details of how the community mourned her, but it is clear that her loss is felt by the community and by Moses.
The Israelites complaining about conditions in the desert and longing for Egypt is not new. Throughout Numbers the Israelites are quick to complain to Moses and long for the delicacies they had in Egypt. In this case we might excuse their complaints as insecurity. They are grieving and they are uncertain about the future -- what if the well was only there because Miriam merited it? In their sorrow, the community falls back into their old pattern of complaining. They forget about all the other miracles in the desert and myopically only see the current crisis. Grief narrows their vision to only the negative. When Miriam was alive they danced and praised God; after her death they are quarrelsome. 
Moses and Aaron are also changed by grief. At first they respond to the people’s complaints by appealing to God, but when the time comes to bring forth water from the rock Moses loses his temper. Moses calls the people rebels – the Hebrew word is morim, a word that sounds very much like Miriam. Is it possible that Moses was still thinking about his sister this “Freudian slip” is what came out of his mouth instead of the order to the rock? Ora Horn Prouser, in “The Torah: A Women’s Commentary,” suggests that while the Torah does not directly state how Moses is feeling, that his mishandling of the demand for water indicates that he is still struggling with his sister’s death. Prouser goes on to suggest that Moses learns to take the time to grieve because later in Hukat, when Aaron dies, the Torah tells us that “All the house of Israel bewailed Aaron thirty days.”
If Moses did react to the people in anger, out of grief, God’s punishment of denying Moses entry into the promised land seems even more harsh. Moses, who has been shepherding these admittedly difficult people through the desert for 40 years, is denied entrance into the promised land because he hit a rock instead of speaking to it? It is not even unreasonable that he hit the rock; when they first got to the desert God ordered Moses to strike a rock to deliver water to the people. Wouldn’t we expect God to recognize that Moses is grieving and to comfort him instead of punishing him? Perhaps God recognized that grief had so profoundly changed Moses and Aaron that they were no longer capable of leading the people into the promised land. Moses had already begun to do some damage to the people — insulting them and setting a bad example by not following God’s exact instructions. The brutal nature of grief is that it can change us in ways we do not want to be changed.
Hukat begins with a description of the ritual of the Red Heifer, that Water of Lustration that purifies those who come in contact with death, Moses’ reaction to the death of his sister reminds us that sorrow can not be washed away so easily.

Written 2010 for the Board of Rabbi's Weekly Dvar Torah

Monday, June 3, 2013

Packing for Summer Camp

My family and I have been going to Camp Newman for seven summers now, and we have packing down to a science. I’ve got a list of some “must-have” items you’ll want to through in your kids’ bags, but first things first: here’s what you really need to know.

You’re going to forget something, and that’s OK.

Nobody gets everything into the bag, but that’s not a problem. Your kids will be filthy, and they will wish they had brought something they forgot, and they will share clothes... and that is part of the fun. Don’t overpack, and don’t worry about how they’ll manage at camp – they will.

Also: not everything that goes to camp comes home again. One summer one of my kids left her duffel bag at camp; she brought home everything in her laundry bag instead. Don’t send anything to camp that you would be heartbroken if you never see it again. 

Packing: beyond the list.

First, you’ll need a list. Start with the suggestions from camp, and adjust it until it seems right. Our camp’s list never includes a flashlight, but I always send one. Our list also suggests only four pairs of shorts for twelve days; I send six, figuring that my kids are likely to be able to wear the same pair for two days, but not three. I make the same calculation with shirts and pajamas. My kids suggest sending an extra set of pajamas, as one set gets dirty on the overnight.

Once you’ve got your list finished, make multiple copies. I keep a copy at home as a packing checklist and one in my purse so that when I am out shopping I can check to see what I still need to buy.

As you pack, label everything — and I mean everything. My favorite tags are Name Bubbles and Label Daddy, but I also keep a Sharpie next to me while we pack. My kids tease me about putting their names on everything, but I have seen the inside of a cabin halfway through camp — stuff is everywhere; the kids just throw all their stuff together when they are in a hurry to clean up.

Don’t underestimate the importance of zip-top bags. I use them for everything: shampoo in one, sunscreen in another, bug spray in a third. They also hold stationary, pens and friendship bracelet string. I write the kids’ names on the outside of the bags (as well as what’s inside) so they can find their stuff.

Now that you’re organized, here are some suggested essentials.

Here’s my list of ten extras that might not be on the list from your camp, but I’ve found to be good ideas over the years.

1. A bunk organizer
My girls like an organizer to hang from the bunk — there are camp-specific models, but any small hanging organizer works. Sometimes clothespins on hooks work even better.

2. A shower caddy
Last year I sent each of my kids with a mesh carrier for their shower stuff. Once they got to camp they put all their toiletries in the mesh basket so they would dry between uses and would be easy to carry to and from the bathroom.

3. A small backpack or bag.
At Camp Newman the kids go on an overnight in tents, away from the cabin; a small backpack helps them pack for the overnight.

4. Lots of sunscreen.
Seriously – lots. I also send a sunscreen stick to make it easier to put sunscreen on their faces. Kids will share, counselors will remind kids to apply and reapply, but I try to make it as easy as possible for my kids to stay slathered in sunscreen.

5. Closed-toe shoes and flip-flops.
I love Keen toe-protecting sandals; I'm sure they have saved me from a bloody foot on more than one occasion. That being said, I also throw in a pair of cheap flip-flops for the pool or shower or for stepping outside to hang up a towel on the clothesline. They are not an alternative to shoes, but an alternative to bare feet.

6. Pack for planned special events.
If you know they’ve got special themed days or activities, pack accordingly. For instance, “Yom Sport” or “Maccabiah” is what we used to “color wars” — so I make sure they have some red, blue, yellow and green, because you never know what color they will be. It doesn’t have to be a t-shirt; a bandana or a hat will work too. And pack some crazy accessories. As kids get older their groups have more theme nights and activities. Don’t worry if you don’t know what to send; the counselors also bring things to share. (80s night tends to be popular, but as a person who grew up in the 80s I am always surprised at what the kids think we wore; I swear we did not look that bad.)

7. Cabin fun.
Those $1 glow bracelet packs are fun to bring to share with the cabin. And a plain pillowcase works great as an autograph memento at the end of the session. Send some colored Sharpies to go with it and everyone in the cabin can sign.

8. A bedsheet.
I send a fitted sheet to go on the mattress under the sleeping bag. No particular reason; it is just a nice little touch of home.

9. A laundry bag.
Even though my kids are not at camp long enough to have their laundry done, I still send a laundry bag so they can throw in stuff that is too dirty to wear again. If your kid will be there long enough to have laundry done, use a canvas or nylon bag so the clean clothes stay clean.

10. Pre-addressed and stamped envelopes.
If you want your kid to write, make it easy. Great-grandparents, grandparents, auntie and best friends... anyone they want to send a letter to. If they’ve got a stamped, addressed envelope they’re more likely to write a letter.

On the flip side: don’t send this stuff.

Do not try to sneak in electronics or cell phones. Camp is a chance to unplug. Your kids are perfectly fine at camp and they are learning independence, and that means not being able to call mom and dad. Read more about why you should leave the cell phone at home here and here.While we are at it, don’t try to sneak in food either; there is always plenty of food at camp, and food in cabins attracts bugs.

Want more tips? Check out these links:
Packing for Camp