Last week, we finished reading BaMidbar or Numbers. As our Torah readers wrapped up their chanting, the community sang “hazak hazak venit-hazek,” the traditional recitation for completing a book of the Torah. With excitement and anticipation, we prepare to read the next book, Deuteronomy.
But to be honest, it is hard not to initially feel that some of this excitement is misplaced. Deuteronomy is a book that involves so much repetition. It retells the same stories we have already read in earlier books; add to this the fact that the Jewish people reread the Torah every year and it is repetition on top of repetition. Even the Hebrew title for Deuteronomy, Devarim, is lackluster—it translates simply to “things.”
Of course, I am not actually about to argue that one-fifth of the Torah is subpar. Whatever its first impression, Deuteronomy has a lot of important teachings to offer. Repetition itself is a valuable tool, one that both counselors and other caretakers know all too well. The first time that a camper is told to take their towel off the clothesline may not land alongside all the other directions they receive during cleanup. A mother may need to tell her child several times to turn off a video game before it is actually powered down. A teacher will often repeat the same rules for math or grammar several times to facilitate memorization. Repetition helps us to focus on what is important that may have naturally been missed the first time around with so many other competing stimuli.
Deuteronomy does not simply reprint stories from earlier books of the Torah, though, and therein lies its biggest lesson. Each time an event is retold, the words are slightly different, the focus has shifted a bit, there is new information to be gleaned. This is exactly the way that we teach our kids and adapt with each passing day to their increasing abilities. The types of details that teachers include when discussing different parts of history – from the Hanukkah story to World War II – change as students become better able to process complex narratives. Nitzanim and Chaverim read the same prayers, but the way our faculty teaches about their meaning shifts with their developmental stages. Olim has likely experienced Maccabia before and events like rope burn and bucket brigade many times. Their focus will shift this summer though as they become captains, determined not just to win but also to facilitate positive experiences for younger campers.
Our Torah has a built-in check with Deuteronomy, a way to ensure that we all have really understood its narrative. Those paying close attention will realize that the Torah also expects that over the course of the year we have developed, we are ready to reread its stories from new angles and with new details. May we continue to grow each and every day and to be the kinds of caretakers who facilitate that growth in our campers and children.
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.