“Mah tovu ohalecha Ya’akov, mishkinotecha Yisrael.”
“How beautiful are your tents House of Jacob, your encampments Israel.”
These words from this week’s Torah Portion, Parashat Balak, express the thoughts of the prophet Bilaam as he rounds the bend of a mountain and first glimpses the Israelite camp below. He is awestruck by the peaceful beauty of the Israelite people as a whole. But, in poetically singling out the “tents,” he also expresses admiration for Israel in all of its individual parts.
At GUCI, we have many opportunities to see the beauty of our community in exactly these two ways, as a whole, and as a collection of individuals. In certain situations it is sometimes said that one cannot see the forest for all the trees. But from the right vantage point, we should be able to see both the forest and the trees. Here at camp, this is a common vantage point.
This past Saturday evening, camp was treated to our usual spirited and sweaty concert by our very own Dan Nichols and E18teen. What made this concert special was all of the different people and groups that were invited to the stage to take part in various songs. An entire cabin of girls giggled as they sang back-up. Our song-leading team bounced up and down as they joined in on another song. And in one particularly moving moment, one of our Avodahnikim was invited to the stage to sing lead along with Danny, and shouted into the microphone before leaving the stage, “Thank you, Danny Nichols, you literally just made my life worthwhile!”
I invite you to view selected portions of the concert below. Don’t forget to notice the solid mass of people in the audience, backs to the camera, singing and moving as one beautiful community, even as some members of the community stood on stage leading us all. The forest and the trees, seen simultaneously.
And three nights later, following an exhausting, high-energy Yom Sport, in which our camp was divided into four teams for a day of healthy competition, we sat in the dark at our Beit T’fillah, led in worship by the team captains. I sat in the back, looked around our outdoor chapel, and took note of all the campers and staff, still in their team colors but now mixed together, arms around each other’s shoulders, bathed in the soft glow of the lights mounted on the trees. Like Bilaam, I was overcome by the beauty of our people, as individuals, now blended into an awe-inspiring rainbow of exhausted, smiling faces.
It immediately struck me and rang true in my heart that this is what it is all about. These moments are what camp is here for. This feeling is what camp gives to the Jewish people. How blessed we are to be part of a family that allows us to see the forest and the trees, the tents and the entire encampment, all at once.
“Mah tovu ohalecha Ya’akov, mishkinotecha Yisrael – How beautiful are your tents House of Jacob, your encampments Israel”.
Rabbi Mark Covitz
Director, Goldman Union Camp Institute