by Chelsea Feuchs, Assistant Limud Director
As a kid, I played softball in the town rec league and my dad helped coach the team. Twice a week we would go out to a local field and he would hit grounders, fly balls, and line drives to the team as we practiced catching. At first the softballs would go through our legs or just miss our mitts, but after a while they began to fall into our gloves consistently. My dad’s favorite position during a game, as far as I could tell, was base coach. He would jump up and down, encouraging us to run straight through first base after we managed to get a hit. I remember hearing him yell “push through!” and picking up the pace even as my legs felt sore and tired.
So why bother recounting my little league days? It’s not to brag about my softball skills—I was a mediocre player at best. It’s because that concept of pushing through is exactly what the Israelites are struggling with in this week’s Torah portion, Chukat. The community is in their thirty-eighth year of wandering, just two away from reaching the Promised Land, and their legs are sore and tired, both literally and metaphorically. They complain and kvetch and quarrel endlessly. Even Moses reaches the end of his rope, and out of frustration he disobeys a specific order from God and is punished, being forbidden from entering the land.
This is an exceptionally low point in the biblical narrative, one in which perseverance was needed but utterly lacking. The Israelites are so close to the Promised Land and yet so unable to find the inner strength to finish the journey strong. This same pattern can be seen today, because exhaustion and frustration are common and so human. A camper makes it through the entire high ropes course but panics right before the zipline; a swimmer speeds through butterfly, backstroke, and breaststroke but feels she can’t finish the final lap of the individual medley; a soccer player who hustled for three-quarters of the match and loses steam toward the end.
The moments of exhaustion we experience today come with an added challenge compared to the biblical story. Unlike the Israelites, we have no promise and no guarantee of success. Maybe you will lose the race and maybe there will be no gold medal or blue ribbon. It is in these moments that kids need enthusiastic coaches to encourage them to push through. As counselors, parents, guardians and caretakers, it is our job to be that base coach, jumping up and down and yelling enthusiastically. Win, lose or draw, our campers should always know that they put in their best effort and feel proud of their work ethic. Perseverance without the promise of success is difficult, but a little encouragement from all of us who work to see kids grow and develop goes a long way.
<em>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.</em>