Friday, June 29, 2007

Balak: Ma Tovu at Camp Judaea

How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!
And I, with Your great loving-kindness, shall enter Your House; I shall prostrate myself toward Your Holy Temple in the fear of You.
O Lord, I love the dwelling of Your house and the place of the residence of Your glory.
Come, let us prostrate ourselves and bow; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker.
But, as for me, may my prayer to You, O Lord, be in an acceptable time. O God, with Your abundant kindness, answer me with the truth of Your salvation. (Num. 24:5)

What else could you possibly choose to discuss in this week’s Parsha, Balak, except for this curveball of all curveballs in the Torah? Balaam is sent by Balak to curse the people of Israel, but is overcome by the beauty he finds at the end of his journey, and his blessing, the “Ma Tovu,” is recited. Whenever I sing “Ma Tovu,” I close my eyes and try to imagine the beauty that this man must have seen that caused him to betray Balak. I would then open my eyes and find that beauty: the lake at Camp Judaea, my childhood summertime home.

I went to Camp Judaea from 1993 to 1998 as a camper, and returned as staff the summer after graduating high school in 2002. Since Camp Judaea is one of five junior camps Young Judaea (the Zionist Youth Movement of America) sponsors throughout the country, the camp isn’t affiliated with any religious movement of Judaism in particular. However, Camp Judaea tends to resemble the Conservative movement in many of its practices, including maintaining a kosher dining facility, observing Shabbat, and holding minyan services every morning.

Services are held in a roofed, open-air structure with benches in a semi-circle surrounding the Bima, all of which facing our lake. We would open every morning service with “Ma Tovu.” I would always close my eyes upon the beginning of the prayer. I noticed my wet feet. The morning dew had collected during the trek from the cabins to flag pole to services, and it was more than noticeable. My stomach would grumble. There was at least an hour between when I wake and when I eat at camp, and my stomach was always at the midpoint of this period and letting me know about it. I'd listen to the ambient sounds around me: other campers singing, feet shuffling across rocks, birds singing their morning songs - all of these sounds flooded my auditory landscape. I would open my eyes and look out on the sun's reflections skipping across the lake, signaling the beginning of another wonderful summer day in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina.

This Shabbat, I will not be in services to hear this Parsha read. I’ll be with 30 of my friends, tubing down the Potomac River in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. I can think of no better way to recall my camp days than to be in nature, on a body of water. To me, that is truly “Ma Tovu.”

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TMB said...

My friend, you are a paradox of delusion.

L'chaim, anyhow!

Justin said...

I went to Camp Judaea, too! I actually worked there last summer and will be returning this summer.