Hello again, friends, from (this time rainy) Camp Ramah in the Poconos! This week, I'm thinking a lot about the relationship between the individual and the community. Much of the educational program at camp, whether through the explicit learning experiences or the less overtly 'educational' parts, focuses on the development of an interdependent community. Campers and staff must work together to foster positive tzrif (bunk) cultures, meaningful pe'ulot (activities), and healthy relationships. At the same time, it's the contributions of many individuals that make these endeavors successful.
This past week, I explored this idea with my Halutzim students (entering 7th grade) in our study of Pirkei Avot. Before even getting to the text, I gave them a challenge. Showing them a beautiful and detailed illustration from a storybook here in our sifriya (library), I gave them one minute to look at it carefully, then asked them, as individuals, to do their best to draw what they saw, closing the book so that they could no longer see the illustration. They worked hard on their drawings and were proud to point out what they had captured from the original when we came back together after a few minutes. We then did the exercise again, looking at the illustration and preparing to draw it. This time, however, they would work in small groups to create a drawing together.
After finishing the activity, we unpacked the experience, with the campers reflecting on how powerful it was for them to rely on themselves when working independently and also how working with other people provided opportunities for collaboration and increased creativity.
We then tied this experience to Avot 1:14, Hillel's famous teaching of "If I am not for myself, who is for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?" The campers were easily able to see how reading the first two questions together allowed us to glean an important lesson: in order to join together in community with others, we must strive to be whole in ourselves. And if we are whole in ourselves, we can best express our individual potential in community with others.
This same synergy between the individual and the community is present in our Torah reading this week. Parashat Re'eh opens with the words, "רְאֵה אָנֹכִי נֹתֵן לִפְנֵיכֶם הַיּוֹם בְּרָכָה וּקְלָלָה׃" - "See [singular], I set before you [plural] blessing and curse." (Deuteronomy 11:26) Many commentators note the grammatical inconsistency in the verse here, drawing meaning from the use of both the singular and the plural in one place. Particularly on the heels of the learning I shared above, the explanation that feels most resonant for me this week is this: Each of us has a personal responsibility - and the individual opportunity - to decide how we respond to the blessings or curses laid before us in our lives. And at the same time, our individual choices don't exist in a vacuum. We exist in community with others and the blessings we bring into our lives will, God willing, benefit those around us, helping each of us to take part in creating our sacred community.
Especially as we draw closer to the month of Elul and our annual period of introspection, my wish for us this week is that we each take the time we need to see what lies ahead of us for this coming year, that we invite blessing into our lives, and that we do all of this supported by, and in support of, each other.
Rabbi Marci Jacobs