This past Shabbat, we read Parshat BaMidbar, the first Torah portion of the book of BaMidbar. BaMidbar means in the wilderness, and at BaMidbar Wilderness Therapy, we know our time in the wilderness is a journey, and that journey is all about process. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks reflects that the book we just concluded, Shemot – Exodus – is in many ways similar to the book of BaMidbar – Numbers. Both books involve journeys in the wilderness, in both books the Israelites complain about food and water, fight with each other, and commit major sins. But Shemot is a “journey from” while BaMidbar is a “journey to.” One might think the journey to freedom is more celebratory than the journey from slavery, but the book of BaMidbar, on the whole, is dark. “The journey from is always easier than the journey to,” Rabbi Jonathan Sacks comments.
Charting a path forward
Last Wednesday, BaMidbar Wilderness Therapy announced the cancellation of our summer programs. Camps across the country are announcing cancellations, and as many of us enter our 11th+ week sheltering in place, we are beginning to accept that this global pandemic is not going away. I know I feel like we’ve crossed a threshold as a community; decisions are being made or have been made. We are beginning to accept that our future will look radically different than we expected, even three short months ago. But now, we need to chart a path forward. We are no longer on a journey from; now, we are on our journey to.
Biologically, we are built to flee from danger. Our sympathetic nervous system activates and our body floods with hormones. We respond before our mind processes what has happened. Adjusting to a new reality, getting over our first fight, flight, or freeze response and realizing we can’t go back to where we were before – that journey demands something more of us. Our initial jolt of adrenaline is gone, and now we need to find new reserves of strength, process the experience, and determine our path forward. It’s new, it’s scary, it’s unknown, and it’s mentally and emotionally exhausting. While holding true to our core, we must adapt and build new skills. We must persevere through setbacks, exercise creativity, and take risks to imagine and create a new and different reality.
On a “journey to” together
My heart goes to our students, who will not be joining us this summer, to our staff, who are experiencing a profound sense of loss, and to our whole community, who all are grieving for so many different reasons right now. And yet, as I read this parshah, I remind myself that we’ve done this before. We’ve been in the wilderness. When we left Egypt, we didn’t know what the final destination would look like, and right now, we don’t know that either. We are all in process, on a “journey to” together. It’s scary, there’s no map, and no end in sight. And as we orient toward the future, it likely will get harder before it gets easier. But we can get through this. If any narrative defines us as a Jewish people, it is the “journey to” narrative, the ability to face a new future, embrace it, and chart a path forward together.
Jory Hanselman is the founding director of BaMidbar Wilderness Therapy at Ramah in the Rockies, the nation’s first Jewish wilderness therapy program. She received her undergraduate degree from Tufts University and her Masters in Public Administration with a concentration in nonprofit management from University of Colorado. She is also a Wexner Field Fellow.