What follows is a d’var Torah that I gave on Shabbat Morning, when Galil was leading services, at URJ Camp Harlam, a few weeks ago.
In a few minutes, we’ll hear what is probably the most familiar verse in the torah: Shma Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad: Hear O Israel, The Eternal is our God, the Eternal is One.
We say these words so often that we don’t often think about them. They become rote, even in English. It’s the first prayer that many of us learned in Hebrew school; it’s a prayer said in every morning and evening service; it’s a prayer said when we go to sleep at night. It’s a prayer we hear and say all the time. A prayer that may be so commonplace that perhaps, ironically given its meaning, we may not always really hear. Today, I call upon us to listen to its message in a new way
In the Torah, as our Torah readers can attest, where the Shma is written, the last letter of the first word, shma, Ayin, and the last letter of the last word, Echad, Daled—are written larger than the other letters. This ayin and this daled spell out eid: Witness.
Each time we recite the shma, we are taught, we are bearing witness to the world that there is One God. But I want to expand this idea for us, and consider that we also much witness the world around us. Notice what’s happening—use your ears to hear and use your eyes to see. Do this always, but especially here at camp.
What we do here—what we hear in this place—what we see in this space—is truly special. I fully believe, in fact, that camp is full of magic. Maybe not the magic of Hogwarts, but the magic of Harlam. The magic that makes time stretch out so that hours are days and days are weeks and months are years. The magic that makes friendships deep and enduring, turning friends into family.
The magic that makes it possible for someone afraid of heights to climb the tower. The magic that makes someone who hasn’t been to Hebrew school know Birkat Hamazon by heart. The magic that makes it possible for someone to read Torah, to lift the Torah, to lead services…when they’ve never done so before.
The magic that makes memories that truly, truly last a lifetime. From my own experience, I can promise you that’s true. This place is so special—unlike any other—camp is, indeed, magic.
As we enter this final week of the summer, be sure to notice that. Be a witness to that magi0c. Hear the voices joined in song, raised in spirit, engaged in learning, sharing a special moment. And see the sites—the beauty of this environment, the smiles on the faces of friends, the light in the eyes of the person beside you.
Witness the magic. Experience it with everything you have—mind, body and spirit. Take it to heart and teach it to others who don’t know about it yet. Talk about it at home and when you’re away. Before you go to bed and when you get up. Wear it on your body, as bracelets and hats and clothing. Put it up as posters on the walls of your house and as magnets on your car.
Witness the magic—every moment of it—and then share it. Our friends from home might not always “get it,” but sometimes they might come to believe in the magic, too. And it gives us a chance to remember—to recall those times when we ourselves were a part of it. When we each came to know its truth. When we each became a witness to the magic.