Back in 1999, I was starting work at the summer day camp at the Nashville JCC, and wrote this musing. This Monday, I will begin a second summer doing music for the early childhood summer day camp for the JCCs of Chicago. (In the years before 1999, and in the intervening years between then and now, I have worked at any number of overnight and day camps, including several wonderful years on staff at OSRUI.) I thought it might be just the ticket to revisit these words from 1999
Do You Spy What I Spy
Well, here I am at JCC camp, surrounded by eager, curious young minds. I ask them why they came to this camp. Of course, there is the usual litany of “my parents forced me” but it does warm my heart when a few of them say they want to be here because it is the JCC camp, and they can be with Jewish friends while at the same time having fun.
I wonder what answers I would get if I asked the parents “why did you send your children here?” It is a choice, not something they have to do. Just as G”d gave Moshe a choice with the words “Sh’lakh L’kha”, which can be translated as “send, for yourself.” According to Rashi, this means that G”d did not give Moshe a direct order to send spies into the land-rather, G”d offered Moshe the choice to decide for himself whether to send spies.
(As a reminder to all, truth be told, Moshe sent “scouts” to reconnoiter the land. It was Joshua, who 40 years later, sent out “spies.” Why we have conflated these two stories confounds me. 15 years ago, when I wrote this musing, I seem to have been suffering under the same misconception, and thus the title. My apologies for the error, but let’s just go with it, OK?)
Why make it a choice? Why “not simply say “Moshe, send spies into the land” ? What is the lesson here? It is an empowering thing for Gd to offer Moshe this choice. Was G”d testing faith? Was this a test failed by sending spies, in the same way that perhaps Avraham avinu failed when he was willing to sacrifice Yitzchak? Perhaps G”d wanted Moshe and the people to demonstrate faith by saying “Spies? Spiess? We don’t need no stinkin’ spies. We have faith that G”d will bring us into the promised land and vanquish all who might stand in our way.”
(As a sidebar, there is an interesting interpretation of why G”d offered Moshe the choice in the book “Sparks of Torah”. It quotes Ephraim of Lunshitz as saying that G”d was worried that Moshe wanted to send men, and not women, to spy on the land. But the men had demonstrated such lack of faith, such ambivalence, whereas the women “loved the land.”)
The cleverness of G”d is demonstrated by the fact that the question of faith in G”d could be demonstrated by not sending spies, or, as actually happened, by some spies having faith and others not. So for G”d, it’s a no lose proposition, whatever Moshe decides to do.
So back to the parents of our campers. Parents are obligated, by mitzvot, to see that their children are taught in our ways. But how this is done is a choice. Camp is one of those choices. It provides a unique environment, one that surrounds their children with Judaism. For many children, this is the only such exposure they will get, for, sadly, not many of their homes are shining examples of living Judaism each day.
In any case, Moshe chose to send spies. Most came back with descriptions of a beautiful, but unattainable land, and only two had the faith to believe that G”d would enable the people to enter into and settle the land despite the presence of other tribes.
All the spies saw the same thing-yet brought back very different opinions because of their own bias.
The same is certainly true for all our campers. They will see us through their own filters. So that puts an obligation on those of us who teach and work here at camp.
What do we want these young people to see when they come? A camp flowing with milk and honey, but populated by fierce giants? Or a land flowing with milk and honey, though perhaps with some sour tastes here and there, but populated by warm, caring, loving staff?
That choice is mine and the choice of all the others on staff (then) at the Nashville JCC camp (and now at the Chicago JCC Apachi Village Camp,) and at every other Jewish camp. Though we cannot change the filters through which our campers see us, we can strive to create an environment that makes them want to be here, provide experiences that make them want to cross into the promised land, and present them with an opportunity to feel good about their Judaism. So when they come as “scouts” (campers) into our “land” (camp and Judaism), they will report back to their “people” (parents) of a land that is wonderful, and a place they want to be, dwell in, and return to.
Our camp directors, who are not G”d (but can sometimes be confused with G”d, or confuse themselves with G”d, dare I say), have said, “Sh”lakh L’kha” to us, the camp staff. Send, for ourselves. It is our choice whether to send. What are we sending? Seeds. We are sending out seeds of Judaism, of love, of Torah. May we all choose to send. May many of the seeds we send out take root. Ken y’hi ratzoneinu.
To all of you and yours, a sweet Shabbat. May the seeds you plant this Shabbat and all summer long take root and grow into beautiful futures.
©2014 by Adrian A. Durlester
portions ©1999 by Adrian A. Durlester
Other musings on this parasha:
Shelakh L’kha 5773 – They Really Might be Giants (Redux 5764)
Sh’lakh-L’kha 5772- Cover Up (Redux and Revised 5761)
Sh’lakh-L’kha 5771 – Ignorantia Juris Non Excusat
Shelakh L’kha 5769 – One Law
Sh’lakh-L’kha 5767-Cover Up II – G”d’s Scarlet Letter?
Sh’lakh L’kha 5766 – Another Missed Opportunity?
Shelakh Lekha 5764-They Might Really Be Giants
Shelakh-Lekha 5762-Minority Report
Shelakh-Lekha 5761-Cover Up?
Shelakh Lekha 5760 and 5765-Anamnesis
Shelakh-Lekha 5759-Do You Spy What I Spy?