Friday, July 20, 2012

A Thought about Teshuvah

Yesterday, I shared on Facebook another Rabbi's blog post which had started to go somewhat viral. Basically, his son is a blind camper at Camp Ramah in Canada, and the family was told that the boy would not be allowed to stay for 2nd session - it was too hard for the camp to accomodate him.

Many people posted about it, clearly upset that Ramah would do such a thing. The injunction to "not put a stumbling block before the blind" is usually taken metaphorically - it means that we should't make it hard for people to do what they need to do, especially in pursuit of their Judaism. But, its applicability here was unavoidably, and painfully, ironic. In this case, the boy was truly blind, even if the stumbling block was still metaphorical.

Today, Rabbi Krishef followed up with a resolution of sorts. The director of the camp has (apparently with complete and deep sincerity) understood that he made a mistake, and has apologized, as well as tried to make things right. A sincere yasher koach (job well done) to him, and to the camp, especially all of those who rallied around this camper.

But, this whole episode got me thinking about a couple of things. First of all, the tricky nature of judgment. From the little bit I've read, it still seems like the camp made a terrible, hurtful decision. But, after I read the initial post, had my initial reaction, and then shared it on Facebook, something interesting happened - I was reminded that the new director, who was clearly "the villian" in all of this, was a friend of mine. I knew him when I was working at Holy Blossom in Toronto, and I considered him a friend. We were never that close, but I liked him very, very much. More to the point, I knew him to be a real mensch. He's kind, thoughtful, and committed to Jewish values. 

I'm not saying that what he did was right. I'm saying that, when you know the person involved in something like this, it adds nuance. It's harder to think of this as simply right and wrong, good and evil. Ron (the director) surely did the wrong thing. But, he's still a very, very good man. He must have believed that he was doing the right thing, and he was, and still is, trying to do what's best for everyone. The fact that he got it wrong doesn't change that. Again - not apologizing for him. Just trying to find some gray.

The other thought I've had is about the limits of teshuvah (repentance). Solomon, the camper in question, is still leaving camp, even though he's been invited and urged to stay. The entire episode has apparently been too much for him, and he's just not comfortable there. At least, not this summer.

There are some acts which simply can't be undone. At least, not completely. No matter how deeply we may regret what we've done, and how profoundly we may have changed our outlook, sometimes the genie just can't be put back in the bottle. The bell can't be unrung. Restitution can be made. Forgiveness can be granted. But, our actions leave a trace, and sometimes a scar. 

Good people do bad things, and we make mistakes. And, fair or not, we live with those mistakes, and those deeds, for our entire lives. It's an Awesome thought, in the true sense of that word.

I wish this family, whom I don't know, and this director, whom I do, nothing but peace and hapiness for the rest of the summer, and far beyond. May we be careful in everything that we do. And may our own mistakes be a spur to not only make us better, but also more forgiving of others who have missed the mark.

Shabbat Shalom.


Anonymous said...

Kindness is a language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see. - Mark Twain

Anonymous said...

Another interpretation of the stick and the blind man is that one should not do something that might cause someone to knowingly or unknowlingly cause harm to himself/herself or another.

If the metaphor is relevant to this situation, the decision to allow this camper to attend, without assurance that the camp could handle the challenge, was the stick.

I am not sure how one can judge, as you apparently have done, that the Director "surely did the wrong thing" without intimate knowledge of the circumstance and other elements of the decision.

Rabbi Jason Rosenberg said...

Anonymous - admitting that we don't know everything about the situation, it seems unlikely that fear of harm was really at play here. Solomon had been at Ramah for years, and the activity which would seem to be the most potentially dangerous, the camping trip, had gone off without a hitch.

But, you're absolutely right that I shouldn't say that the Director "surely did the wrong thing." I was basing that on Rabbi Krishef's account, and on the fact that Ron (the director) apologized, saying he had been wrong. But, without knowing the whole story (which very few people do, obviously), there's no way we can be sure.