B’yachad Shabbat Dvar Torah – Intentions Matter

Last Shabbat was planned and led by B’yachad, our 10th grade camper group. We’re intentionally sharing Camille Brimmer’s D’var Torah…


Shabbat Shalom.

This week’s Torah portion is Matot/Massai. The parsha begins with laws and vows conveyed by Moses to the heads of the 12 tribes. Moses musters a force using soldiers from each of the 12 tribes in waging a war against the Midianites for their role in plotting against the moral destruction of Israel. During the war, the soldiers take from the Midianites and the war spoils are allocated. With the last battle of wilderness behind them, Israel moves into a new phase: that of settlement.

The boundaries of the promised land are given. Among these includes the establishment of 6 levitical towns that will serve as cities of refuge for those who committed involuntary manslaughter. Here, God makes a clear distinction between murder and manslaughter. The Torah claims that killing another person is reprehensible, but also asserts a difference between murder, which is deliberate, and manslaughter, which is not.

Contemporary American law makes a similar distinction, mandating a varying degree of severity to correspond to the different levels of responsibility due to intention and circumstance.

Intention matters. Intention determines the meaning of an action, which can thus determine the consequences of the action.

In the instances of murder and manslaughter, intention is something that is considered retrospectively. But, intention can also be a deliberate decision and mindset we make prospectively. Intention is the cause of the effect of our actions. There is always intention behind our behavior, whether we are consciously determining it or not.

I personally am a believer in consistently setting clear intentions. One specific way I like to frame intention setting is by asking myself these three questions before I embark on a new journey or when I am stuck in a difficult position: Who am I? What do I want? How can I serve?

This summer, I am focusing on the question of how can I serve. I think about my presence in my cabin, in B’yachad, and in camp as a whole. I know I can serve through my commitment to shtick. Camp is a place to be weird and goofy in ways we might never feel comfortable doing at home or in any other environment in our lives. We turn ourselves over to the silliness, embracing it in our own unique ways. Setting my intention around being unabashedly silly and encouraging my campers to give themselves over to the shtick too, is one way I’ve made the summer intentional and meaningful. I know I can also serve with my creative thoughts and approaches to situations, inspiring others to realize there are no bounds to ideas and you don’t have to do what others do or think the way others think.

By identifying and setting these intentions for the summer, I am able to be the staff member I envision myself being. I can find the purpose in everything I do at camp.

Intention can mean the difference between truly living life and just going through the motions…..the difference between just spending time somewhere and truly being in and of that place. Beginning with the Torah and continuing into Judaism today, there is a strong emphasis on intention, Kavanah. Kavanah gives our lives meaning.

For example, performing a mitzvah without proper Kavanah, while it might have a positive effect on the world, leaves the doer of the mitzvah unaffected. So if you don’t have good intentions when doing a mitzvah, like only giving tzedakah because your parents made you, and not because you think it’s the right thing to do, makes the action useless.

One core element of Kavanah emerges from the idea that intention is the direction of one’s heart. Simply doing something versus doing the same thing with a sense of purpose and a certain wholly dedication has the potential to shift the outcome entirely.

Camp is just a place. What makes camp special and creates the Herzl Magic is our sense of purpose and dedication. We may have the intention to feel proud, after devoting ourselves to writing the best flag song ever. Or loved, as we seek to meet new friends. At camp, we are led in the direction of our hearts. It’s our choice on how we make our moments meaningful and how we aim our behavior towards what we hope to gain from the summer.

For most of us, before arriving at camp this summer, we had some ideas about what we wanted our summer to be. Maybe we wanted to try a new activity or get really good at something here at camp. Maybe we wanted to spend time with our friends and revisit or deepen those relationships that are unique and special to the time we spend at this place. Now here we are with only 10 days left of the summer. I invite you this Shabbat to think about your precious time at camp. And I encourage you all to think about intention in your life. Ask yourself: Who am I? What do I want? And how can I serve? Set some intentions for the rest of the summer and make the most of every moment here.

Shabbat shalom.

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