Young Jews: Every Voice Matters
For they (the teachings) are our life source, and what lengthen our days, and so we meditate on them day and night.” — Siddur
This past week I arrived at Camp Yavneh in New Hampshire. It is my first time at a summer camp. Not knowing anyone or what to expect, I was surprised to hear my name being called. It turned out some of the graduating seniors from a high school class I taught were at camp. They ran over, hugged me, and asked if I would facilitate a meditation session — like I have previously done for them on high school retreats. A little flustered as the “newbie” at camp, I knew that if Jewish youth are asking from something Jewish, I have a responsibility to say yes. Soon after their counselor asked if the whole group could join, and before I knew it, I had 40 new friends!
We sat in a circle, began with a story, sang a few songs and began our journey through our breath and prayer, i.e. Jewish meditation. The primary aim of meditation, I told them, is to help one center and align their mind, body and spirit, in hope of reaching to the core of who we are as people. Ultimately, this practice can guide a person to their inner selves in a way that can be unfamiliar, but most valuable. I told them that not often enough do we hear our own voice, in our Jewish communities. I told them, that as the leaders of the future generation, they must find their voice, for if they don’t, fragmented and disconnected realities will eventually surface.
No matter the content or discussion I have with my students, I make sure they know that my sole priority as their rabbi is to awaken within them the confidence and capacity to take hold of their Judaism, not my Judaism, but their own. As King Solomon taught “Know well the condition of your flocks; give your attention to the herds.” Homiletically speaking, this proverb teaches to always be aware of oneself and one’s possessions, furthermore, it teaches to never think lightly about what looking at what your needs truly are (Rashi). I stress to them how important it is for them to find their voice, and how essential that discovery is in securing the future of the Jewish community.
Arguably one of the most poignant examples in the Torah about recognizing the importance of finding one’s inner voice is found in the portion we read this Shabbat. Because the miracle of water in the desert depended on Miriam’s presence, after Miriam’s death (Numbers 20:1) the nation now depends on Moses and Aaron. Moses is commanded by God to approach the rock and speak to it; only Moses, perhaps after decades of muffled expression due to a generation of tormentors, loses his voice, and hits the rock—twice.
The Rabbis, summarized by the Ohr HaChaim (18th century), note that there are 10 different possibilities as to what Moses’ crime was by hitting the rock, that it prevented him from entering the land of Israel. I’d like to suggest, as pointed out by Rashi, that Moses’ loss of words, loss of his inner compass and true self was the grave sin, because losing one’s own voice prevents the individual from truly being able to move forward toward the promised land.
There is no greater gift that we can offer this generation, than the gift of self-agency. With the continuous struggle to utilize technology for spiritual and psychological development, as well as the ongoing bombardment of our smart phone notifications, dependence has taken on a new meaning, and connection no longer means the head and the heart and how those may interact with another, but something quite different. When one is given the opportunity to develop their inner voice and when an environment fosters and enables one to do so, seedlings take root and the will sustain the future generations with the sweetest of fruits becomes the reality.