D’var Torah: First Impressions Matter

Many years ago, I changed my primary care doctor to the person who still cares for me now. As it happens, my doctor had shoulder surgery the year that I met her and one of her arms was confined to a sling, immobilizing her arm. For various reasons, I visited her more often than the average patient might otherwise see their doctor that year and I vividly remember watching her try to type using just one hand. To this day, I am surprised each time she opens the door of the examination room with two functioning arms. I imagine that her shoulder has been healed for at least twenty years, but the image of my doctor in my mind is still the one where she is wearing a black sling over her white lab coat, unable to use one arm. First impressions matter.

This week is Shabbat HaChodesh – it is the final of the four special Shabbatot leading up to Pesach/Passover (don’t panic yet!) – and we read from the Torah the giving of God’s first mitzvah. The very first idea that God chose to introduce as a commandment is…. הַחֹ֧דֶשׁ הַזֶּ֛ה לָכֶ֖ם רֹ֣אשׁ חֳדָשִׁ֑ים רִאשׁ֥וֹן הוּא֙ לָכֶ֔ם לְחׇדְשֵׁ֖י הַשָּׁנָֽה׃ – This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you. (Exodus 12:2). Our covenantal relationship with God begins with the obligation to note the passage of time and to mark it.

Why might God choose to use this commandment as our first impression to the idea of being commanded? Because time – how we mark it, how we spend it, and how we count it – is the definition of being a free person. Slavery requires that we adhere to someone else’s sense of time. A free people can choose to obligate themselves and the way they spend their time any way they choose. Which is not to say that it’s a free-for-all. When we opt into a community (be it work, school, family, Ramah, or otherwise), we are choosing to put ourselves on someone else’s schedule. But we are doing it of our own volition – not Pharaoh’s.

Noting the passage of time, of course, also allows us to prepare for what is ahead. When a shul-goer sits in services this Shabbat morning and hears this Torah reading, their ear is attuned to what is coming. Pesach is a little more than two weeks away – and it is time to begin our preparations. Aside from menu-planning and seder planning, I encourage us to spend some time contemplating the kind of free person that we want to be. Are we strategic and deliberate with how we spend our time? Do our calendars reflect our values and ideals – or have we become slaves to someone else’s obligations?

As I spend time this spring drafting (and redrafting!) Ramah Boston’s daily schedule, I am thinking a lot about the values that we, as a Ramah community, hold dear – and how we transmit them to our campers. Although we ran a pilot week last summer, this summer is really our chance to make a first impression on our Boston-area day camp families. And while I have no doubt that we’ll run a great camp, the impression that we’ll leave is depends on the details. The team of professionals that I am blessed to work with is incredibly thoughtful – and invigorated by this challenge. We are excited to make t’fillah (prayer) meaningful, to get the buses home on time, to feed our campers a nutritious and delicious lunch, and to offer engaging peulot (programs). Doing so is how we demonstrate our value system – and hopefully, how we make a great first impression.

Chag Pesach Sameach (a little early, I know) and Shabbat Shalom.