Torah Study with Rabbi Sommer

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Shalom from OSRUI! Every year, more than 50 Rabbis, Cantors, and Educators who spend time with us at camp in the summer.  They work closely with the Rashei Eidot (unit heads) to create fun Jewish experiences that are educational and engaging. Today we are joined by Rabbi Phyllis Sommer as she teaches a message from this week’s Torah Portion, Pinchas.

In our Torah cycle, it was only a couple of weeks ago that Moses learned that he was not going to continue leading the Israelites after they crossed into the Promised Land. With his time as their leader near its end, everyone’s thoughts begin to turn to the new leader. Who has what it takes to carry on the mantle of leadership of the Jewish people?

Moses weighs in, giving his opinion to God:

Moses spoke to the Eternal, saying: “Let the Eternal, Source of the breath of all flesh, appoint someone over the community who shall go out before them and come in before them, and who shall take them out and bring them in, so that the Eternal’s community may not be like sheep that have no shepherd.” (Numbers 27:15-17)

The request made by Moses isn’t in itself unusual, but the name that Moses uses for God here: “Source of the breath of all flesh,” is somewhat unique. Why does Moses use this particular name for God in this particular important moment in history? The commentators in Midrash Rabbah interpret this as Moses reminding God of the differences and uniquenesses of each individual human. Of course, Moses is saying, if each person is so unique, we need a leader who can seek and find that in each member of our community. Moses is asking God to choose a leader who will care for every member of the community in their own unique way, while still also finding a way to help everyone to feel a part of the greater whole of the Israelite congregation.

One of the things I love about being at camp is that it is a place where our uniquenesses are celebrated. Whether our chanichim like to read, play sports, bake, dance, draw, ride horses, or any other number of things – those gifts are honored. And yet, we also all feel a part of the greater whole of the OSRUI community.

God chooses Joshua to take over the leadership of the Israelites, and describes him as a man who has “ruach” inside him. Ruach – spirit – ruach, helps Joshua to enthusiastically embrace each community member’s gifts and also to draw everyone into a shared purpose. So too, do our leaders at OSRUI enthusiastically embrace each gift while helping us to be one camp, one community.

As I’m thinking about this Torah lesson, I’m also reminded of a verse of our OSRUI Song, written in 1991 by (now Rabbi) Dan Burg:

The feelings that surround us here will strengthen every day
For this place of Jewish harmony is surely here to stay.
Though units may divide us, we always will be friends
United under a common name, we’re strong until the end!

May this be our blessing – to seek the uniqueness in each person while continuing to celebrate the strength of our community.

Rabbi Phyllis Sommer is the Director of Congregational Learning at Am Shalom in Glencoe, Illinois, and her favorite camp meal is pizza with ranch dressing.