The Perspective We Get With Distance, by Rabbi Sarah Graff from Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto, CA | Camp Ramah Northern California

The Perspective We Get With Distance, by Rabbi Sarah Graff from Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto, CA

As I read our double Torah portion of Chukkat and Balak this week, I am struck by the different perspective one can gain when looking from a distance. Parashat Chukkat reminds us of the struggles of life in the Israelite camp. Miriam dies, the community is without water, and they complain to Moses, saying, “Why have you brought the Lord’s congregation into this wilderness for us and our beasts to die there? Why did you make us leave Egypt to bring us to this wretched place?” Their complaints, coupled with the loss of Miriam, bring Moses to his breaking point. He hits the rock to bring forth water, rather than following God’s instruction to speak to the rock. And Moses is punished for his behavior. The Israelites have problems!

Yet in Parashat Balak, we get a totally different picture of the Israelite camp. We are transported to the land of Moab, where King Balak is terrified of the Israelites and their power. He tries to get the prophet Bilam to curse the Israelites, but Bilam has only blessings for the Jewish people.  From up on the mountain top, Bilam proclaims, “Mah tovu ohalecha Ya’akov, mishkenotecha Yisrael,” “How good are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel.” It’s strange that the Torah is suddenly letting us into the minds of foreign kings and prophets. But what a powerful gift it is, to see ourselves from a different perspective, to view our lives from a distance.

None of us imagined that this summer we would be looking at our camp, Ramah Galim, from such a distance, unable to go to camp, to hug our friends, to have Havdalah on the beach. My daughter Eliana would give anything to just have one shabbat at camp, one night in the chadar ochel, singing the camp song and dancing with her friends. But in the painful absence of in-person camp, she is loving camp all the more, loving her friends all the more, and realizing all the memories they have made over the last 5 years.  

In a way, these last 2 weeks of virtual camp have been an opportunity for our whole family to stand on the mountain top and catch glimpses of Ramah Galim. To see dedicated young adults sharing Torah with their campers in creative, heartfelt ways. To watch campers put on their onesies and dance to the beloved havdalah dance party songs, even on Zoom. And to remember that 6 years ago, this camp didn’t exist. Our communities brought this camp into being. Now we can’t imagine life without it.

How good are our tents, Ramah Galim community! Let us take this time of distance from our camp to actually draw closer to it, with gratitude.