By Asaf Lubin and Danna Gal, both of whom are Co-Rosh Mishlachat this summer and long time staff members. This D’var Torah is from June 28, 2014.
This week’s portion refers to a common human behavior- being asked to do something and not doing exactly as we are told. Moses, the leader of the Israelites, was called on by G-D and asked to speak to a rock, so that water could flow from it and be used to quench the thirst of the congregation and their livestock. Moses decides to strike the rock with his staff rather than speak to it, not once but twice, causing an abundance of water to gush forth. God was understandably upset that Moses did not follow his order to the letter, and tells Moses that he shall therefore not be the one to bring the assembly to the Holy land.
Many pages have been written as to Moses’ decision to strike the rock and not speak to it, as asked. One explanation looks to Miriam, Moses’ sister who had recently passed away. Not only was Moses grieving his sister’s loss, but it was actually Miriam who in the past tended to the needs of the congregation, and Moses grew impatient with the Israelites constant nagging and whining. An alternative explanation looks at G-D’s previous calls on Moses. In the past G-D turned to Moses to perform his miracles using physical acts – striking his staff to turn it into a snake; striking his staff to feed the congregation – and yet here, G-D’s request is to speak to the rock and not strike it. Another interpretation is that perhaps Moses considered the request to be strange. “Who speaks to rocks? or to inanimate objects in general?” he must have asked himself. So Moses decided to forgo this odd method of communication, go with his instincts, and communicate with the rock the way he knew best- by striking it.
Communication plays a significant role in the functioning of camp. Directors, counselors, campers, unit heads, camper care, specialists, kitchen staff- We’re constantly talking, listening and attempting to understand each other. However, more often than not we will find that different people communicate in different ways and sometimes miscommunication. The members of our camp community come from different countries, different states, and different schools and in some cases different decades. So you might think that what you’re saying to someone is perfectly clear, but they take it in a very different way than that you meant, much like G-D’s request from Moses.
This topic is particularly pertinent to the Mishlachat, who have been very involved in services this morning. The Mishlachat knows firsthand what it’s like to struggle with communicating in a different language and culture. There are so many moments at camp that turn into a Hebrew man skit- When Ani is me, and me is who, and who is he, and he is she, it’s hard for all of us, Israelis and Americans alike, to get a message across. So much so that we sometimes feel like it would be easier to talk to rocks.
So what can we take away from this week’s portion that will help us improve the communication within our camp community? How can we learn from the mistake Moses made to make sure every person is heard and understood? To begin with, we should acknowledge each other’s differences. We might benefit from being more considerate and attentive to each person’s unique communication style, looking at the person behind the words. This summer, We can all find opportunities to sharpen our listening skills. Camp is a noise-filled environment and we sometimes find it difficult to be present and really focus on the person we’re communicating with. If we can keep these ideas in mind, we are sure to strengthen the bonds we forget this summer and make friendships that will last a lifetime and will span continents. Shabbat Shalom!