Rabbi Karen Citrin
June 27, 2014
This evening I would like to share with you a postcard written by a sixteen-year-old boy who is attending one of the URJ summer camps. His parents received his note this past week. Reuben writes:
Hello (mom), I am having an awesome time at camp. Everyone at camp is awesome. Our session is really awesome and we’re all getting along well. I can’t believe that you haven’t sent me anything yet. How are you and dad? Please fix my watch.
Write soon. Love, Reuben
Would you agree that Reuben thinks Jewish summer camp is awesome?! The normal and humorous teenage requests aside, in the short postcard Reuben captures his love of Jewish summer camp. His enthusiasm reminds me of the bumper sticker on the car of our own temple members, Sarah Beth Gordon, which reads, “Follow me to GFC.”
For those less familiar with camp lingo, GFC is Greene Family Camp, the regional Reform summer camp for Texas and Oklahoma, where 16 of our own Temple kids and teens are spending part of their summer. Many of us here can recall the experience of yearning for the awesome days of summer camp. More on this in a moment…
It is summer, which means for some of us more time to relax, travel, barbeque, and slow down the pace of life. It also means that it is hot. Here in Green Country the earth and air is humid and moist. But we know that other parts of the country are suffering from drought. Micah and I just returned from California where water levels are low and friends are watching their water usage closely.
The experience of drought is familiar to our people, especially in biblical times. In the center of this week’s Torah portion, Chukat, Miriam’s death is immediately followed by a drought. The Torah recounts, “The Israelites arrived at the wilderness of Zin on the first new moon, and the people stayed at Kadesh. Miriam died there and was buried there. The community was without water, and they joined against Moses and Aaron…. The people quarreled, saying, There is not even water to drink.” (Numbers 20:1-3)
While the Torah does not speak specifically about Miriam’s connection with water, the midrash elaborates on the notion of Miriam’s Well, which provided water for the Israelites in the wilderness and ceased to exist upon her death. The rabbinic commentary even attributes supernatural qualities to Miriam’s Well including that it traveled with the people in the wilderness and that it later possessed healing powers. The community felt the loss of Miriam intensely; not only her physical presence, but her ability to sustain their health and well-being.
Sometime after her death, when water had been restored, the community sang out a song of thanksgiving: “Spring up, O well – sing to it – The well which the chieftans dug, which the nobles of the people started, with maces and with their own staffs.” (Numbers 21:17-18)
Spring up, O well. Miriam’s Well came to represent all that is nourishing and life-giving. In the words of contemporary author, Carol Ochs, Miriam’s Well “stands for the dining table, the cradle, and the welcoming embrace of loved ones. Miriam’s Well is where we find God.”
So what does Miriam’s Well have to do with summer camp? Miriam’s Well is a reminder that throughout our days we must seek wells of wisdom, wells of community, wells of awesomeness, wells of meaning that lift our spirits and restore our souls.
For some, that well is summer camp. For others, it may be Torah, or prayer, acts of loving kindness, or time with close friends. It may be a walk or run, a bike ride, a swim, a nap, good food, a good book, good company. It may be a retreat with others. It may be finding time alone. It may be deep conversation, beautiful art or music, or any number of other things. Perhaps it is Shabbat.
What are your wells? What are the wells that sustain you, uplift you, and make it possible for you to get through the day to day? What are the wells that restore your soul? Miriam’s Well is a reminder that Judaism is filled with overflowing wells to draw from.
In the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Ushavtem mayim b’sason mimaiy’nei ha’y’shuah – Joyfully shall you draw water from the fountains of salvation.” (Isaiah 12:3)
Spring up, O well. Make sure that we do not live our days in spiritual drought. Spring up, O well. So that we may continually draw from Your living waters.