D’var Torah: Parshat Devarim and Taking Risks

Every summer, I run a Shabbat afternoon program with our oldest campers, the Nivonim edah. I usually speak a little about the Torah portion and then answer any questions they may have. It is sort of my press conference with Nivonim. I always find it enjoyable. As I told the Nivonim parents when I met with them on Visiting Day, there were two questions that I wanted to report back on. The first was, “Is a hot dog a sandwich or not?” The second was, “What things do I, as the director, not control at camp?”

The answer to the first question is “no”: a hot dog is not a sandwich.

The second question’s answer is that I do not control anything at camp. I think that answer blew them away. I tried to explain that there really is very little that anyone can control. We can try to influence others by building relationships with them and teaching them how to do things. But, in reality, we cannot control things.

In this week’s Torah portion, Moshe says, “The Lord our God spoke to us at Horeb, saying: “You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Start out and make your way to the hill country . . .” It seems that God was impatient with the Israelites. Why were they lingering at the mountain when God had guaranteed them success in conquering the land of Israel? Something was keeping the Israelites anchored to the mountain where they sensed safety and the daily support of God. They were afraid to take the risk of heading out to conquer the Promised Land.

I often say that one of the greatest things about camp is that it is a pretty safe place to take risks. Take a risk and try to climb the Alpine Tower. Take a risk and lead a tefilot service. Take a risk and share your opinion. Camp should be a supportive environment to help you accomplish new things and be there to encourage you when you fall short.

The Israelites were afraid to leave the comfort of their controlled life in the wilderness. Water and food were provided. They didn’t have to interact with others. In Moshe, they had a leader they trusted. Yet to reach the next stage as a people, they had to leave.

We all have our comfort zones. We like to feel like we are in control. Sometimes it is important to “leave the mountain” and try new things. This is a value that we try to instill at camp that will allow all our chanichim to grow and learn, whether they succeed or fail in any given moment. Shabbat Shalom.

Categories: Director, Dvar Torah