This week’s parasha, Beha’alotcha, ends with the famous episode in which Miriam gossips about Moses and his wife Tzipporah. As a result, God inflicts her with leprosy and she is commanded to recover outside the camp for seven days. The Torah records, “So Miriam was closed away outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not journey until Miriam was brought in” (Bamidbar 12:15). In regard to B’nai Yisrael’s sojourn during Miriam’s recovery, Rashi comments: “The Omnipresent accorded [Miriam] this honor because of the one hour that she lingered for Moses when he was cast into the river [as an infant], as it says, ‘And his sister stationed herself at a distance, etc.’ (Shemot 2:4)”
Rashi’s connection between Miriam the child and Miriam the woman brings me back to a distinct memory from my Machon summer. Back in 2006, my cabin had a counselor who made quite an impression on me. During tefillot (services), I noticed that he seemed to be praying with his whole body, often with his eyes closed in concentration. He told stories like none I’d heard before – old Jewish tales that went on for a half hour and longer. Everything about this man expressed how much he loved his Judaism. His intensity was unlike any counselor we had before, and so in the beginning, just like Miriam gossiped about Moses, my friends and I made some unkind remarks about our counselor amongst ourselves.
About the third week of the summer there was a turning point in my cabin’s relationship with him. I remember one night, when some of my cabin mates and I were talking on the porch, our counselor joined us. For the next hour we paid close attention to what he had to say and to the Torah he was teaching us. And our collective appreciation of this amazing person grew tremendously. I began to understand why he prayed the way he did, why he dressed the way he did, why he acted the way he did. His love of Judaism was inspiring. One of my favorite memories from that summer was of the Friday nights after dinner. Our cabin would walk down to the lower kikar and dance in the light of the burning Shabbat candles, singing different Shabbat songs and melodies.
Last summer, on the first Friday night after dinner, I led my aidah down to the lower kikar and told the story of how my friends and I used to dance in the light of the Shabbat candles with this counselor. It was a poignant moment in my camp career. Here I was, seven years removed from my Machon summer, telling a story about how a counselor’s love for Judaism helped me as a high school student love my own Judaism more.
When I stop to reflect on why camp is such a special place, and why I choose to continue spending summer after summer in the Northwoods, I think about how fortunate I was to have had this experience as a camper. In the nurturing space that is Ramah, my friends and I were able to move from misunderstanding to appreciation. We learned that a first impression is not always accurate, and that we all have something to learn from our fellow human beings. One of the great joys of being a Ramah staff member is having the ability to help campers learn those same lessons and to help them create new Jewish memories.
Did Miriam know, as a child, that the simple act of waiting on her brother from the reeds would one day cause the whole nation to honor her in the wake of a shameful punishment? Did she wait because she foresaw that this helpless baby would become the greatest leader of the Jewish people? Most likely not. Miriam, as a young girl, was just doing what came naturally to her as her brother’s older sister. Did my counselor, back in 2006, know of the impact he would have on his campers? Probably not—he was just being himself. How fortunate I am to return to Ramah to continue making new memories and to continue learning from those mentors who danced in the same space before me.