22 May 2009
28 Iyar 5769 – Yom Yerushalayim
Our students have shone this week. Both our Boys’ Varsity Baseball Team and our Boys’ Varsity Tennis Teams won their League Championships. Last night, overflowing classrooms of parents, students and alumni were moved and entertained by Playhem, our annual spring theater production of four one-act plays that are produced and directed entirely by students. To me, one of the greatest successes this week can be found beneath what appeared on the surface to be a disappointing loss. Our Girls’ Varsity Softball Team reached a new milestone and a new stage in its development this year by earning a winning record and a home game in the semifinals of its league championships. Unfortunately, they were not able to overcome their opponent this time. When I arrived at the field late in the game, the girls were down by a significant margin and the fans (mostly parents) seemed concerned. Until the very last out, however, the girls did not lose their spirit. Because in softball or baseball only one player hits at a time, it is tempting for other players to sit on the bench, talk with each other, and passively watch the game from the dugout. But not our girls. Even on the brink of defeat, the entire team lined up at the fence cheering on and encouraging their teammate, yelling her name as if she were the tying run at the plate. What a metaphor for the experience and the power of a team, and of community: while each individual has a role and a responsibility to contribute, she is backed up, cheered on, raised up by her peers, as if they are up there hitting, running, even striking out together, as one. Each girl is part of something greater than herself.
So too is the case in this week’s Parsha, the opening of the Book of Bemidbar (Numbers), and so too will be the case when we stand as a community at Sinai next week on Shavuot. And yet, according to our tradition, God speaks to each and every one of us, according to our capacity to hear and to understand. As we will read in Exodus 19 on Shavuot, we receive the Torah when we stand in an unbreakable circle around the mountain, warned that no individual should try to break forth. In Parshat Bemidbar, as B’nei Yisrael prepares to embark on their journey from the wilderness of Sinai to the Land of Israel, God commands Moshe to “take a census of the whole Israelite community . . . listing the names . . . head by head.” (Numbers 1:2) The word for census, “se’u,” literally means “lift up.” According to Menahem Nahum of Chernobyl, as quoted in the commentary of the Etz Hayim Chumash, “Let the Israelites hold their heads high in pride as they contemplate who their ancestors were.” I would add, as they contemplate that they count, they are part of a community, part of a family, part of a team, part of something greater than themselves.
High school can be like the midbar (wilderness), a long journey, sometimes with no end in sight, with what can feel like droughts along the way, as well as times that feel like miracles. We are reminded this week and on Shavuot that we do not, we cannot, make the journey alone. Community depends on the presence, contribution and accountability of every unique individual member. And, it can be uplifting for each individual to know that he is standing in a circle of friends, parents, and teachers. Travelling in community helps us to reach our destinations, and adds meaning and value to the journey itself.
As we race to the finish line of the school year, each of us is called upon to step up to the plate. May we be lifted up by the sounds of our entire team behind us, standing at the fence and cheering our names.
Rabbi Marc Baker