Matot-Masay (Numbers 30-36 )
For 40 years, Camp HASC, tucked away in Sullivan County, has been pulling out all the stops in order to provide the most enjoyable, enriching and fun-filled summer experience for "children and adults with special needs, intellectual and physical disabilities."
While participating in their morning minyan, it dawned on me that most of the counselors were half my age (at least) -- and carrying twice as much responsibility. I'm not sure about you, but I can assure you that my summer "experience" as a 20-year old paled in comparison to the selfless contributions of these young adults. These young and women willingly forfeited a pool-side summer of leisure or their own "chilled out" experience as a camper competing in "color war" in order to pour out their heart, soul, time and effort (physical and emotional) in the hopes of brightening the lives of those suffering from a variety of physical and mental handicaps.
At one point, a particularly young counselor (I wouldn't be surprised if my siddur was older than him) interrupted his davening to physically attend to a camper and literally carry him to a different location but the thought crossed my mind that I should really be standing up for this dynamic duo -- no less than I would be duty-bound to stand for another Jew lifting a Sefer Torah.
This brief glimpse into true love for one's fellow Jew was a timely lesson as we enter the month of Av and the sobering reality of the Nine Days. Indeed, part and parcel of anyone who is sincerely yearning for a rebuilt Jerusalem is a sincere soul-searching as to the nature and degree of our love for our fellow Jew.
"Real love," Rabbi Aharon Feldman writes, "exists where one is willing to give up something dear to him for the benefit of another person." (from "River, Kettle and the Bird").
* * *
The tribes of Gad and Reuven said, "If we have found favor in your eyes, let this land be given to your servants as a heritage; do not bring us across the Jordan."
"Moshe said to the children of Gad and the children of Reuven, 'Shall your brothers go out to battle while you settle here? Why do you dissuade the heart of the Children of Israel from crossing to the land that Hashem has given them?'" (Num. 32:5-7)
Rashi: "Why do you dishearten them [i.e., the other tribes] from crossing [into Eretz Yisrael]? For they will be under the impression that you are afraid to cross because of the war and the strength of the town and the people?"
Upon hearing Gad and Reuven's request to settle outside the proper boundaries of the Land of Israel, Moshe does not launch into an impassioned persuasive plea in the hopes they will reconsider. Rather, Moshe, the consummate leader and Commander-in-Chief goes to the heart of the matter - i.e., what the consequences of Gad and Reuven's decision will mean for the morale and well-being (physical, emotional and psychological) of the rest of the Jewish nation. One's choices are not in a vacuum, but rather have consequences for Jews and those consequences must be reckoned with lest we become consumed with self-interest and a "what's in it for me" mindset.
This type of expansive-thinking is an appropriate place to focus our efforts during the ensuing Nine Days leading up to Tisha b'Av. As the Alter from Kelm writes repeatedly, "It is a great merit to worry about the well-being of one's fellow Jew."
True, our mental "work pad" is often stuffed to the gills. Nevertheless, let us seek to find some emotional bytes and earmark them for the sharing in the burdens of our fellow Jew. This person's bid to find suitable employment. Another one's financial struggles. Her dating woes. His compromised health. For when we clear the space in our heart to care for those less fortunate - when we emulate those heroes of Camp HASC - we will capitalize on the hallowed days of Av.