Please enjoy a D’var Torah this week from Jared Skoff, Rosh Garinim and Rosh Halutzim 2016. Originally from Cleveland, Jared spent the past three summers at Ramah Wisconsin, after working at Ramah Canada for three summers. This is Jared’s second year working year-round for Camp Ramah, last year as a Ramah Service Corps Fellow in Detroit, and this year as the Development Associate & Special Projects Coordinator at the National Ramah headquarters in New York City. He is the youngest dues-paying member of The Workmen’s Circle.
Reflections on Parashat Bereshit
by Jared Skoff
Beginning with the story of the first man and woman, our ancestors struggled with issues of identity and insecurity. Despite being fashioned “in the image of God,” Adam and Eve focus only on what they are not. They eat the forbidden fruit to elevate their identity – they want to be like God and have a “fear of missing out.” They look outward for access to godliness, when they should look inward and recognize their own potential.
Cain kills Abel because of his own insecurity. He feels inferior to his brother. When Abel’s sacrifice is favored, Cain wants to assume the role of the favored one. He focuses on eliminating his competition, rather than working on himself. He cannot see the potential within himself, only the recognition he is missing.
These patterns of identity and insecurity continue throughout the Torah. Jacob impersonates his brother in order to receive his father’s blessing – and his deceit is more than just wearing a costume. Jacob feels that he must assume his brother’s identity in order to be worthy of his father’s approval and blessing. He feels unworthy of his father’s blessing as Jacob.
All of us at one time or another have felt that the only way to be accepted, to fit in, to gain approval, is to be somebody else. That we cannot be worthy, cannot be authentic, the way we are. This is a universal sadness – the idea that the way I am, I am not good enough.
And that is why in Jewish tradition, our greatest heroes are far from perfect. They are improbable heroes with serious flaws. They are heroes who don’t believe they can be heroes. But they have a spark that transcends their imperfections.
Camp Ramah is a place that thrives on improbable heroes. Above the desk in my office, I hung a printout of my personal recap of Halutzim’s breathtaking defeat of Solelim during this past summer’s epic soccer match. Heroism at camp isn’t limited to a younger aidah (division) defeating an older aidah in sports; we see heroism when a Solelim camper teaches her bunkmate to read Torah for the first time, when a Garinim camper picks up litter on the kikar (central field), when a counselor devotes countless hours to making her Kochavim tzrif (cabin) feel like home.
Adam and Eve wanted to be like God – which is not necessarily a bad thing. Cain wanted to be favored by God – which is also not a negative aspiration. But each of them felt the need to be someone else in order to succeed.
Camp is the place where we realize that we don’t need to be somebody else to be worthy. It is a place where we can continue to find the image of God in improbable places, within ourselves and in those around us.