July 30, 2021
Shalom from URJ Camp Harlam in beautiful Kunkletown, Pennsylvania! I have been involved in some form of Jewish summer camp for almost 40 years; as a camper at URJ Greene Family Camp to staffing there as well as at URJ Kutz Camp and serving as faculty at URJ Camp Harlam. Throughout all of these experiences, we have many opportunities to study Torah in a unique and innovative way – with open minds and unlimited potential.
This week’s parshat, Ekev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25), is another opportunity to learn something new. This entire book until the end is Moses’ final chance to speak to the Children of Israel before he dies and they must cross over to the Promised Land without him. His need for the Israelites to listen could not be more crucial. “Hear, O Israel,” Moses says again and again, “Shema, Yisrael!” Moses has to make his words sufficient to a new reality that he will never know: facts to be built on the ground, things to be done on the far side of the Jordan River. The Israelites, once they cross over towards a new beginning, have the obligation of making happen everything they have said and would do. This is all to fulfill the promise of the teachings of God that Moses shared in the wilderness.
During my time here at camp, we face this task every day. We have created our own covenant of understanding built on mutual respect and compassion, and we work each day to fulfill the promises we have made to both our campers and their families. As we have learned, justice and mercy will increase in our world only if you and I put them there. Goodness awaits our doing. Society awaits our word. God needs us as human partners now as much as ever.
Ekev expresses that message in the simple metaphor of a way through the wilderness. “Remember the long way that the Eternal your God has made you travel in the wilderness these past 40 years” (8:2). Did you know that a paved road exists whether anyone travels on it or not? A path in the wilderness exists only if people walk on it regularly. Abandon the path even for a short time and it becomes overgrown. The repeated trampling of feet clears the way and each person’s journey is made easier by the passage of those who have gone before.
That’s the lesson! What you and I do really matters! The way we treat others, the rules we are to follow to have a society with justice and mercy, and how we give thanks for our food, and so much more – all of these rules are to help us create a world of hope and goodness. Camp Harlam is a place that allows us to walk the path and re-walk it, alone and together, every day. Each time, we learn something new and we vow to do good, to end suffering, ignorance and evil. We also renew our commitment to be partners with God in fulfilling the blessings of Creation. May each of us continue this sacred journey towards many blessings