Parshat Pinchas: Learning from Our Mistakes

There is a character in this week’s Torah portion (parshat Pinchas) named Nemuel who I have never noticed before. Like much of the Torah, the details around Nemuel are sparse and are open for midrash (explanation) to fill in the gaps.

Nemuel made me think of goals we have as parents, and as a Jewish educational summer camp. We want our children to be independent thinkers, strong and confident and able to stand up to peer pressure. In my 17 years as a camp director (12 in Palmer), I have found that this is – appropriately – hard. I can hear my own parents responding to my excuses that “other kids were doing the same thing” by saying that they weren’t concerned with what others did, but rather how I behaved. My mom and dad encouraged me to be a leader and not to follow when I knew something was wrong.

What does this have to do with Nemuel? In this week’s parsha, while discussing a census, the Torah notes that Eliab had three sons, Nemuel, Dathan and Abiram. If you remember, Dathan and Abiram were the ones swallowed up by the earth for rebelling against Moses. It turns out that their brother, Nemuel, did not join in their rebellion. Three boys raised in the same house and in the same environment. Two of them rebelled but the third resisted that pressure and remained true. How did Nemuel resist the temptations that impacted his brothers? The Torah doesn’t say any more.

In my experience, there are no guarantees when it comes to raising children. I think that it is important for children to be provided with great role models and teachers while given enough independence to make choices and the mistakes that come along with them. It is so hard to see our children struggle or hurt. Yet, it is equally important that when our children make mistakes we hold them accountable and guide them on how to do teshuva (return to the right path). One of the beautiful things at camp is that chanichim (campers) have a safe setting in which to face decisions on how to respond to many life situations. When they make mistakes, we try to learn from them, and then they are put right back into situations where they can make the right choices and grow.

Perhaps Nemuel grew up, made some mistakes, learned from them, and when faced with a critical decision as an adult he had the courage and confidence to do the right thing. At camp, I have been around long enough to have seen many of our chanichim grow from little kids to be on our tzevet (staff). I have seen them make mistakes, grow and blossom into wonderful young leaders and role models. Shabbat Shalom.

Categories: Director, Dvar Torah