Hillel’s 3 questions

By Laura Seymour

Dear Families,

Summer is the time for camp and many of us have wonderful camp memories. I am truly blessed because I create new memories each summer as I continue being a camper all my life. Teaching Jewish values in a camp setting requires one thing: a great singing session. We have found that the lessons that our campers (and counselors) learn through singing stay with them forever. For the nine weeks of camp, I will introduce a new song each week in this column. If you want to know the tunes, just check out iTunes.

This song is one of many with the words from Pirke Avot 1:14. We have chosen this Mishnah as our theme for the summer. The song helps us understand the meaning of Hillel’s words . We begin by taking each part alone and ask why this question is asked.

If I am not for myself, who will be for me? What does it mean to take care of yourself first? Why is this the first message given?

If I am only for myself, what am I? What is our responsibility for others? Why is it important to care for others?

If not now, when? Why do we put things off for another day? It is important to act today for ourselves and for others.

Last question: Why did Hillel put these three questions together?

Im Ein Ani Li Mi Li (Debbie Friedman)

Im ein ani li mi li. Uch’she ani l’atzmi ma ani
V’im lo achshav eimatai eimatai
If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am only for myself, what am I?
And if not now, when?

Hillel was a rabbi and he taught us what to do.
The first part of his lesson said: You must be true to you.
You have to like yourself if you expect that others should.
Having self respect is something special, something good. CHORUS

Myself is something special; it’s the place I have to start.
But Hillel said we must make room for others in our heart.
Love yourself but care and share; don’t lock the others out.
Caring for yourself and others is what life’s all about. CHORUS

Life is short, the time flies by and just before you know
Today becomes last week and then a long, long time ago.
Hillel said: Do what you must; act now, today, don’t wait!
Decide what is important, do it now, it’s not too late. CHORUS

Laura Seymour is Jewish experiential learning director and camp director emeritus at the Aaron Family JCC.

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