By Laura Seymour
Shavuot has passed; however, that doesn’t mean we move on from following the commandments (and remember there are lots more than 10 — in fact there are 613). The stories in the Tanach show that we were great at accepting the covenant but not so great at following it plus things haven’t gotten a lot better. The Rabbi Sacks Legacy (www.rabbisacks.org) put out a wonderful study guide for teens to be used at Shavuot, titled “Why Am I Bound by a Covenant I Didn’t Personally Agree to?” The text from Devarim (Deuteronomy) 29:9-14 begins with “All of you are standing today before the Lord …” and goes on to say “Not with you alone am I making this covenant and oath; with you who are standing here with us today before the Lord our G-d I make it, and with those, too, who are not with us here today.” There are many interpretations but the bottom line is that this covenant is for all of us from the past, present and future. As Jews, we continue to accept and that is what has kept Judaism alive and thriving.
Judaism is not the only place where we learn about the importance of keeping commitments; this idea of contracts, covenants, brits, agreements is part of everyday life. We make promises all the time to others and to ourselves. What is the “guarantee” that we will follow through? Probably the most basic “guarantee” is that we are afraid of getting in trouble — and that is for adults as well as for children. Yet we must strive to keep our commitments because of who we are. Strive to be a person of integrity: Having integrity means that you live in accordance with your deepest values, you’re honest with everyone and you always keep your word. This matters when we make a commitment to our family, our friends, ourselves and to G-d. Not always easy!
Camp at the J is starting soon and we talk about all of these values and make a “brit” to follow. One program that we do at camp is ADL’s (Anti-Defamation League) “No Place for Hate.” It is a program for schools that we have brought to camp with the help of ADL. It involves many learning and doing opportunities but begins with signing a pledge — signing your name to something adds weight (even if you are only 5 years old). Here is the pledge (there is a longer one for older children and lots of discussion goes on before signing):
The No Place for Hate Promise
• I promise to do my best to treat everyone fairly.
• I promise to do my best to be kind to everyone — even if they are not like me.
• If I see someone being hurt, I will tell an adult.
Everyone should be able to feel safe and happy at camp. I want our camp to be “No Place for Hate.”
Can we really ask children to understand and sign on to such a commitment? Yes, because we then have the words and reminders throughout the day on how to behave. Just imagine if we all signed a brit like this — would it change the world if we all agreed? The best part of this is that it says, “I promise to do my best to…” We do not need to be perfect and all will make mistakes but if we keep the promise to TRY always in our minds, maybe we can get to doing 613 commandments!
Laura Seymour is Jewish experiential learning director and camp director emeritus at the Aaron Family JCC.