Thursday, August 25, 2011

RE’EH 5771

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Re’eh

26 Menachem Av 5771/August 26, 2011 -- Pirkei Avos – Chapter 6

Shabbos Mevorchim Chodesh Elul

Camp is an amazing place. In a certain sense it’s a fantasy land where a camper can spend all day with friends, have a slumber party every night, and play sports and activities all day long, without his parents hovering over him. But all good things must come to an end, and this week the camping season ended.

Last week, as is customary during the final week of camp, we ‘observed’ Color War. After three days of sports, plays, and competition, Color War reached its crescendo on its final night when the entire camp, split into two teams, participated in the Grand Sing. The highlight of the night (aside for the announcing of the scores) is the singing of the ‘alma-mater’ - an emotionally charged song which describes the memories of camp, how much camp means to everyone, and how much everyone will miss it.

It is not uncommon to see campers and staff members alike, singing together arm-in-arm with teary eyes, and sometimes outright crying. What is it that moves people to tears during the alma-mater? Is it just the sadness of leaving behind the fantasy world of camp, or is there more to it?

I believe the reason why people cry at the end of camp has to do with why children are so excited by their birthday. Ask children how old they are, and they will reply, “four and a half and three quarters”. Then they’ll you that it’s only two months and three days until their birthday. Don’t get me wrong - cake and presents are definitely fun and exciting (especially when you’re young enough to eat cake without counting calories and feeling guilty for every bite). But I think there’s more to why children are soooo excited about their birthday and wait for it all year long.

Children are excited for their birthday because it’s their birthday. On a child’s birthday he is the hero simply because he has lived another year. On his birthday everyone smiles at him, claps and sings for him, and he is the center of attention. On his birthday the child feels special for being himself! He waits all year to be the celebrated hero and ‘king or queen of the day’.

During camp the dining room, packed with approximately 700 people (and another 200 in an adjacent ‘family dining room’) is filled with a tremendous cacophony of noise. Even with the microphone’s volume raised, it is hard to hear announcements or the other ‘shtick’ being broadcasted throughout the meal. At some point during the meal, the names of all campers who have messages are announced over the microphone, so that they can come and pick up their messages. It never ceases to amaze me how, despite the fact that most campers hardly hear another word being announced, virtually every message is retrieved during the meal.

Even when someone is only half listening they hear their own name. A person’s name is the most important sound in the world, because it represents him. A noted educator once quipped that a child goes to school and sits in class all day to hear his name mentioned once!

I believe that people cry at the end of camp, not merely because they are leaving behind exciting sports, trips, activities, and fun, but because they felt special in camp. This does not mean that they don’t feel special or successful all year round. Rather, that during camp they felt a unique sense of wholeness and inner comfort. It could have been the care and friendship of one counselor, learning rebbe, or friend. But someone(s) made them feel more special, and so they cry for the imminent loss of that feeling.

We all need to feel important and special. We all need to have people who believe in us, even – or especially - when no one else does.

As we usher in the month of Elul we have to realize how special and beloved we all are. And if we can help someone else recognize their own specialness then we have given them the greatest gift of all.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum