Camp YavnehCamp Yavneh
June 27, 2019

Torah Minute with Sara Birnbaum – Parsha Shalach

Author - Camp Yavneh

Parsha Shalach begins with Hashem (God) giving Moses a directive to send representatives, specifically a leader from each of the 12 tribes, on a mission to explore the land of Canaan to find out if it’s suitable for Israelites to inhabit. Moses follows Hashem‘s command and sends the tribes’ representatives into the wilderness of Canaan to spy in the land. The verb Shalach is used in the Parsha to describe the actions of Hashem and Moses.  Shalach means ‘to send’; it is often the action of one person sending another person to do something.

This is the time of year when as parents we are tasked to shalach our children to camp. While the children don’t lead tribes, they are the future leaders of the Jewish people.  They leave home and embark on a fantastic adventure for 2 weeks, 4 weeks or 8 weeks, immersed in the unknown land of camp. While many children have been to Mahane Yavneh in past years, each year camp is a little different. Every summer, there is an element of the unknown. This unknown element of camp is refreshing, engaging and exciting with new madrichim (counselors), new mumchim (specialists) and new peulot (activities) at camp. Helping to balance this are things that remain the same year to year like the cabins, the buildings, old friends, favorite activities and returning madrichim.  Each summer is an opportunity to become part of Mahane Yavneh’s intentional Jewish community that only exists in its own realm during the summer. Here at the Mahane, we continue the cultivation of our future Jewish leaders. The simple act of shalach empowers the campers to be more independent, to try new things and experience the special world of Mahane Yavneh.  Many campers can be heard saying Mahane Yavneh is my happy place’ because they open themselves up to all the experiences camp has to offer.  

Our campers’ experiences are in sharp contrast to how the tribal leadership experienced Canaan after their forty days of spying and exploring. The leaders came back to the Israelite encampment and they reported that the Land of Canaan is full of Milk and Honey as they brought back with them a beautiful bounty of grapes. However, all of the tribes’ representatives with the exception of Joshua and Caleb returned with a negative impression of the people that inhabited Canaan. They advised Moses that it was not a good idea to proceed into the land, implying that inhabitants were mightier and stronger than God. They spread lies about the inhabitants of the land, reporting that they were giants, scaring the Israelites with these stories. These lies caused dissension and unrest among the tribes. Caleb and Joshua did not support the lies and strongly supported going into the land of Canaan.

Why did the Israelite leadership lie about the inhabitants of Canaan? One may be able to best understand lying when we explore the truth. In Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book ‘A Passion for the Truth’, he relays the philosophy of the Kosker Rebbe “Truth taught the Kotzker, could be reached only by way of utmost freedom. Such freedom meant not to give in to any outside pressures, not to conform, not to please oneself or anyone else.” Those who lied still had the slave mentality of Egypt; their experiences in the desert did not change how they thought as they still didn’t know how to experience freedom. Together they clung to their fears of new land and new experiences.    

Our campers are able to open themselves up fully to Mahane Yavneh because they come from a place of freedom in their Jewish experiences from their homes, synagogues, schools and youth groups, each preparing them to be open to new opportunities.  At camp, they are enveloped and guided by many positive influencers including friends, counselors and camp staff. Joshua and Caleb’s truth and openness are emulated in how we program daily activities to nurture relationships at camp. When you think about how you shalach your child to Mahane Yavneh this summer, feel comforted in the fact that your child is embraced in the kehilah (community) where they have the opportunity to learn and grow.