D’var Torah: A New Year for Wonder, Happiness and Optimism

I’m a lyrics guy. I find a song I like and I listen to it over and over thinking about what it means. I cycle through songs that I listen to repeatedly. Then, every few months, a song drops off the playlist and a new song moves up. 

I saw the movie CODA and was struck by the song Both Sides Now. In the movie, the song was sung by Emilia Jones, but it was written by Joni Mitchell. This song speaks to me both about  all that is going on in the world and about where I am in my life. It thoughtfully illustrates how children grow up seeing things in an idealistic way, but through life’s trials and tribulations they learn that there are real challenges, heartaches and difficulties.

The song’s first topic is clouds. Here is what it says:

Bows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feathered canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s cloud’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all

The clouds haven’t changed. It is our relationship to them that has changed. Things happen to us that make it easier or harder to see clouds as representing our dreams or something that thwarts all we want. For so many of us, the last few years have represented clouds that are blocking the sun. We struggle to see the light or feel the warmth, but the pandemic and its impact on our physical, mental and emotional health has made this challenging. 

For many, camp is a place where we can recapture seeing clouds as “ice cream castles in the air.” It is a place of laughter and fun where we often feel loved and nurtured. We have time to lie on our backs on the soft green grass and see all sorts of things in the clouds. It is a place to dream.

Camp is certainly not a cure-all. A real-world disease can enter a camp. Someone’s struggles with mental health don’t just disappear. Yet, for around 1,500 campers and staff at our camps, camp provides a place to regenerate, refresh and recharge for the other ten months of the year. 

On Rosh Hashanah we proclaim after blowing the shofar, “Today is the birthday of the world!” We get a chance to start over. We ask God to be gracious and compassionate to us and grant us a clean slate to move forward. 

This year, I am praying for all of us to once again be able to see clouds as “bows and flows of angel hair.” I want us all to feel that childlike wonder, happiness and optimism. It’s not that we don’t know that clouds can also bring “rain and snow on everyone”; the key is not to let clouds stop us from doing “so many things I would have done but clouds got in my way.” 

And there I think we have it. We need help moving obstacles out of our way. Camp, at its best, is a place where we help each other move the storm clouds out of the way. We encourage and build each other up to chase our dreams. But even outside of camp, we can do this. Let’s help each other remove obstacles so that we can soar and become the best possible versions of ourselves. Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova!