As a young person, I believed Tisha B’av to be a camp holiday. You know, like maccabia – color wars, or zimriya – song festival, or “rock around the ages,” or “t’fillot afloat” are camp-specific programs and events. Growing up at Camp Ramah in Ojai, the only exposure I had to Tisha B’av was sitting on the bottoms of benches, reading eicha by candle light in the place where we typically have extremely energetic Friday night services and programming that was centered around destruction and rebuilding. Last week, when visiting Ramah Galim for Tisha B’av, I was proud to see that these chanichim, these campers and their tzevet (staff) are experiencing the same Tisha B’av bubble that I knew. Tisha B’av is a day, at camp, with intentionality, but also a humbling amount of regularity. Like all aspects of the Jewish camping movement, and specifically Camps Ramah, our participants of all ages are living, eating, sleeping, playing and doing Judaism at each moment.
This week’s parasha is one of the more camp-appropriate parshiot for the summer. Va’etchanan has the Shema and the second announcement of the Aseret HaDibrot, the 10 commandments. Before the people come and hear these 10 sayings to live by, there is a verse that illustrates “you came near and stood tachat the mountain” “tachat ha’har.” Tachat means under though is often translated as “at the bottom” since standing under a mountain is rather impossible and undesirable. Chizkuni, Hezekiah ben Manoah of 13th century France, uses the translation of “standing at the bottom of the mountain” to interpret that the people stood at attention, as compared to a verse in Exodus 19:17.
However, the Gemara cites a rabbinic discussion claiming that the people really were tachat, under, the mountain.
Rabbi Avdimi bar Hama bar Hasa said: “the Jewish people actually stood beneath the mountain and the verse teaches that God overturned the mountain above the Jews like a tub, and said to them: ‘If you accept the Torah, excellent, and if not, there will be your burial.’ Rav Aha bar Ya’akov said: ‘From here there is a substantial caveat to the obligation to fulfill the Torah. The Jewish people can claim that they were coerced into accepting the Torah, and it is therefore not binding.’ Rava said: ‘Even so, they again accepted it willingly in the time of Ahashverosh, as it is written: ‘The Jews ordained and took upon them, and upon their descendants, and upon all those who joined them’ (Esther 9:27) […] what they had already taken upon themselves at Sinai.”
Why Purim? Why did we not accept the full word of God, the totality of Torah in Moses’ time, or on a holiday like Shavuot or Pesach?
Purim is the “Jewish camp” of our holidays. Purim is the holiday where we learn so much through tikkun olam – repairing our world and relationships to her, matanot l’evyonim – helping those less fortunate through gifts of food and goodies, and reading a story that proves our vitality, importance and yet fragility. On Purim we “do” for others and for ourselves and it is all through fun, the actual mitzvah to be happy. Like Purim, our people learned the meaning, the importance and the actions behind our Torah, our covenant, during a holiday where they lived those aspects. At Camp, we live Judaism, the community at camp accept willingly the Torah and all that is ordained to them because it is through fun, through experience and it becomes part of their regular life.
When my siblings and I would return home from camp, we had a hard time remembering to say certain words in English because at camp the language for so much of our regular day items is Hebrew. We would recite birkat hamazon after meals because that was part of the schedule of a meal, and without thinking about it. How can we bring Purim and Camp into every moment of our lives after summer is over? How can we make the Judaism that we believe, that we cherish, part of just a normal day? Our people accepted the Torah during a time when they needed and were able to see the fruits of practicing it, let’s continue that revelation and bring more camp into our every day Jewish.
Rabbi Rebecca Schatz