By Melissa Frey, Director of URJ Kutz Camp, and Associate Director of NFTY
This week’s Torah portion, Shemot, we read about how the parents of a newborn son placed their child in a basket on the Nile River so that the child would not be killed. Rescued by Pharaoh’s Egyptian daughter, she named the child Moses, and he grew up a prince. He was later expelled from Egypt, and began a remarkable life journey central to the story of Israel and our people.
This Shabbat is special for me, because I am spending it with the NFTY President, NFTY Religious and Cultural Vice President, and our NFTY Director of Education and Special Projects in Eilat. We’re a short distance away from the borders of Jordan and Egypt, and the Red Sea visible from our hotel. During our drive here today, we began to speak about this week’s Torah portion. There were many things that were particularly interesting in our conversations, I’d love to share just one.
We spoke about perceptions regarding ‘old’. That in the United States, each of the cities we live in has an ‘old’ part of town, and some places just seem so much older than others. When you travel through Israel, ‘old’ takes on a whole new meaning. So when we read in Shemot of Moses seeing the burning bush and approaching it, and God responding by saying, ‘Vayomer al-tikrav halom shal-ne’aleycha me’al raglecha ki hamakom asher atah omed alav admat-kodesh hu – Do not come any closer. Take your shoes off your feet. The place upon which you are standing is holy ground’, it had real meaning for us.
One of our favorite non-Torah texts is said to be derived in part from this verse from Shemot. “Da lifnei mi ata omed, know before whom you stand,” is the central text of Generational Leadership, and is the touchstone text of the URJ Kutz Camp’s summer curriculum. As we drove out of Tel Aviv, past Jerusalem, to the Dead Sea, and on to Eilat, everything we passed had major historical and religious significance. Everything made us think in reverence to the enormity of our history, and it all seemed so beautifully, richly, meaningfully old, in a way we simply cannot feel when we are at home. We have been profoundly impacted by the gravity of knowing that while in Israel, we truly stand before thousands of years of challenge and learning and history and mystery and that our ability to be here and revel in all of this is a gift. We are humbled by the experience, we can’t wait to bring this back to our NFTY community, and above all, we are grateful.