by Chelsea Feuchs, Assistant Limud Director
This week’s Torah portion is Korach and, to be honest, it’s diffuclt to explain to young campers. Essentially, a man named Korach instigates a rebellion against Moses and, as a result, is swallowed up by the earth along with his biggest supporters. The punishment is swift and brutal, and not exactly the type of lesson we want to be teaching at camp about disagreements and conflict resolution.
Despite the disconcerting aspects of this parasha, a closer reading reveals many parallels
between the argument in the text and arguments between children. Korach accuses Moses of being aloof, Moses accuses Korach of being entitled, Korach says Moses is being unfair, and Moses then tells G-d not to listen to these claims against him. Just change out the characters and this becomes instantly recognizable to any counselor, parent, teacher, or caregiver out there. A little sister accuses her big sister of leaving her out, a nitzanim camper claims his bunkmate is cheating at a game, or an olimer complains that a friend is being standoffish. Then, just as Moses spoke to G-d to defend himself right away, kids often find an adult and immediately start arguing their side of the dispute.
In the Torah reading, this strategy works out well for Moses—he is protected by G-d and his enemies are eliminated. But seeing as this type of divine intervention no longer exists, and seeing as we wouldn’t want to win arguments by having our opponents swallowed up by the earth, how do we address these conflicts today?
The job of a counselor is not to mete out swift (and even reckless) judgment, it is to mediate conflict and encourage both sides to grow in the process. Maybe the big sister did leave her sibling out, but bringing this to her attention and asking her to empathize with her little sister’s feelings can help their relationship develop. Maybe the two nitzanim campers are playing by two different sets of rules, and need to talk together about how to get on the same page to play their game. Maybe a camper is being standoffish, but it is because they are tired and they need to learn to communicate their needs and limitations more clearly.
It turns out that biblical fights are far more relatable than they first appear, perhaps because people have been navigating interpersonal conflict for millennia. Anger, confusion, disappointment, and hurt feelings will all occur at some point between members of a family or a community, and how we deal with them is what matters most. While conflicts may look similar thousands of years later, resolution does not. Biblical justice no longer works, thank goodness, but lessons can be drawn from the model of restorative justice. We can encourage children to put themselves in each other’s shoes, to try to understand how their actions make others feel, to communicate and apologize from a place of understanding. And who knows, if we teach these lessons to the kids, maybe we grown ups can embody them in our own lives too!
Chelsea Feuchs is a rising second year rabbinical student at HUC-JIR in New York City. She is thrilled to spend her seventh summer at Crane Lake Camp, her childhood home away from home. When she isn’t davening, Chelsea can likely be found kickboxing.