Blog  Understanding The Magic

Understanding The Magic

By Mitch Polansky, Machon (First Year Counselor)

Mitch with Shoresh Campers

Mitch with Shoresh Campers

According to Jewish tradition there are four different levels at which Torah can be studied. Peshat, the first level of understanding, means the surface or literal interpretation. Remez, the second level of understanding, means the hidden allegorical or symbolic meaning of the text. Derash, the third level of understanding means the moral teaching or rabbinic understanding of the text. The final and most elusive level, the Sod, represents the “secret” or mystical hidden essence of the text. These four levels together form the acronym PaRDeS, which means orchard, and from which we get the word paradise.

The same four levels can be used as a lens to understand the magic created at GUCI every day. At the most basic level, the Peshat, GUCI is a whole lot of fun. As a camper I had a blast here. That’s just the way it works. From canoeing, to Yom Sport, to the Migdal, our climbing tower, to bunk nights, to Project, to sports, to music, to the everyday activities and games planned by counselors, the fun at GUCI is endless. While these activities were often the subject of letters home and gushing conversations on the car ride back, this was only the surface level of GUCI, what I could see at first glance – the Peshat.

At the second level, the Remez, I realized that these activities are more than just for fun. While I may have had a blast doing them, I was also learning valuable lessons. I learned that the Migdal and bunk nights aren’t just for fun, but that they foster a sense of community and promote cabin-bonding. Yom Sport, while filled with color, energy, and a lot of cheering, also taught me to work as a team and compete in a healthy and collaborative way. These lessons are important, and many last a lifetime, but they are still only the second level of understanding GUCI magic – the Remez.

While these lessons are important, they  were meaningless unless applied to everyday life. This is the Derash level of GUCI – how the lessons are applied and what questions those lessons raise. This is what happened every year when I went home. I put the lessons to use. I treated others with more compassion and more understanding. I was more cooperative, more willing to listen to others, more willing to take advice or help when they need it. I learned to be myself and act on my own passions and interests rather than the expectations of others. I learned to care for others and be more aware of those around me. I learned to work as a unit. I learned to be more observant of the world around me and more appreciative of what I had. This is GUCI magic put to use – the Derash.

Now is where I let you in on the Sod. I’ve only caught a glimpse of GUCI’s secret and deepest level of magic. It’s something I’m just beginning to discover now, after nine years as a camper and one year on staff, and I don’t expect to truly understand it for many more years. Beneath all of the activities and lessons and songs and memories there is a magic at GUCI that transforms each and every person who comes here. As a Machon, a first year counselor, I can see the subtle changes that occur in every camper every day. GUCI is a place where campers become themselves in a way they can’t anywhere else, a place where campers can figure out who they are and who they want to be, a place where campers feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves, a place to learn and practice empathy, a place where campers stop thinking so much about what they want and learn to see what they want through others. All of this just skins the surface of GUCI’s deepest most essential purpose – the Sod.

Coming back now as a counselor, three years after my last year as a camper, has been a surreal experience. There is so much more under the surface of this place than I ever could have possibly imagined. As a camper it was too easy to passively move through a month of fun and overlook all the incredible ways I was being transformed. I was too immersed in the Peshat of camp to recognize the Sod. The opportunity to take a step back, look at camp from a new perspective, and pass on all of the incredible experiences I was given as a camper has been a blessing and a privilege. I hope that one day my campers will have the same opportunity to see each of GUCI’s dimensions, all four PaRDeS together, and realize what a beautiful community they are a part.

Understanding The Magic

By Mitch Polansky, Machon (First Year Counselor)

According to Jewish tradition there are four different levels at which Torah can be studied. Peshat, the first level of understanding, means the surface or literal interpretation. Remez, the second level of understanding, means the hidden allegorical or symbolic meaning of the text. Derash, the third level of understanding means the moral teaching or rabbinic understanding of the text. The final and most elusive level, the Sod, represents the “secret” or mystical hidden essence of the text. These four levels together form the acronym PaRDeS, which means orchard, and from which we get the word paradise.

The same four levels can be used as a lens to understand the magic created at GUCI every day. At the most basic level, the Peshat, GUCI is a whole lot of fun. As a camper I had a blast here. That’s just the way it works. From canoeing, to Yom Sport, to the Migdal, our climbing tower, to bunk nights, to Project, to sports, to music, to the everyday activities and games planned by counselors, the fun at GUCI is endless. While these activities were often the subject of letters home and gushing conversations on the car ride back, this was only the surface level of GUCI, what I could see at first glance – the Peshat.

At the second level, the Remez, I realized that these activities are more than just for fun. While I may have had a blast doing them, I was also learning valuable lessons. I learned that the Migdal and bunk nights aren’t just for fun, but that they foster a sense of community and promote cabin-bonding. Yom Sport, while filled with color, energy, and a lot of cheering, also taught me to work as a team and compete in a healthy and collaborative way. These lessons are important, and many last a lifetime, but they are still only the second level of understanding GUCI magic – the Remez.

While these lessons are important, they were meaningless unless applied to everyday life. This is the Derash level of GUCI – how the lessons are applied and what questions those lessons raise. This is what happened every year when I went home. I put the lessons to use. I treated others with more compassion and more understanding. I was more cooperative, more willing to listen to others, more willing to take advice or help when they need it. I learned to be myself and act on my own passions and interests rather than the expectations of others. I learned to care for others and be more aware of those around me. I learned to work as a unit. I learned to be more observant of the world around me and more appreciative of what I had. This is GUCI magic put to use – the Derash.

Now is where I let you in on the Sod. I’ve only caught a glimpse of GUCI’s secret and deepest level of magic. It’s something I’m just beginning to discover now, after nine years as a camper and one year on staff, and I don’t expect to truly understand it for many more years. Beneath all of the activities and lessons and songs and memories there is a magic at GUCI that transforms each and every person who comes here. As a Machon, a first year counselor, I can see the subtle changes that occur in every camper every day. GUCI is a place where campers become themselves in a way they can’t anywhere else, a place where campers can figure out who they are and who they want to be, a place where campers feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves, a place to learn and practice empathy, a place where campers stop thinking so much about what they want and learn to see what they want through others. All of this just skins the surface of GUCI’s deepest most essential purpose – the Sod.

Coming back now as a counselor, three years after my last year as a camper, has been a surreal experience. There is so much more under the surface of this place than I ever could have possibly imagined. As a camper it was too easy to passively move through a month of fun and overlook all the incredible ways I was being transformed. I was too immersed in the Peshat of camp to recognize the Sod. The opportunity to take a step back, look at camp from a new perspective, and pass on all of the incredible experiences I was given as a camper has been a blessing and a privilege. I hope that one day my campers will have the same opportunity to see each of GUCI’s dimensions, all four PaRDeS together, and realize what a beautiful community they are a part.