Ma Tovu – The Holiness of this Place
For many years I have written D’vrei Torah on Parshat Balak and Bilaam’s famous blessing, Ma Tovu, which was originally intended to be a curse:
How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel!
Over the years, we have explored what made Israel’s camp spectacular. Some ideas have to do with the camp’s physical structure and some have to do with the people’s behavior.
This year, when I arrived at camp – almost two years since the last camp session – my emotions ran deep and I saw camp through fresh eyes.
I can’t prove this is real, but I feel like the events and activities that take place here are somehow stored in the makom (place). It feels like hallowed ground. I have felt similar feelings in a few places, including the Gettysburg battlefield.
In Judaism, HaMakom (The Place) is another name or reference to God. I think that the repeated holy activities that take place here year after year bring God into this place and that spirit rests here. It is as if the very trees remember us.
When the first few of us arrived, the feelings of holiness came from the serenity of the beautiful setting that is Camp Ramah. It feels like our being here has awakened memories of Ramah past. As more staff has arrived, the intensity of these memories and feelings has intensified. It is somewhat overwhelming, but in a very pleasant way. I imagine that the arrival of our campers on Tuesday will be quite a sight!
I also think Ma Tovu is aspirational. We should strive to make our camp a beautiful place through how we steward the land and treat one another. It is a blessing that this year we will not take for granted that we are here, in this space. Our actions will leave a mark on each other and on the space. We owe it to ourselves and each other to make sure that those actions represent the best versions of ourselves and how we care for each other. I can’t wait! Shabbat Shalom.