Parsha Devarim: Leading a purposeful life

As we study, we continue our prayers for peace. “And seek the peace of the city where I have exiled you and pray for it to the Lord, for in its peace you shall have peace.” (Jeremiah 29:7) Our d’var Torah is by our frequent contributor Jordan Block.

Dear Scouts,

We’re reading Parshat Devarim this week, which is the first parsha of Sefer Devarim (Deuteronomy). It’s a neat review of everything that happened since leaving Egypt consisting mostly of misbehavior on our part. Rashi goes through the first sentence of our parsha word by word and explains how each bit of it is a reference to something we did wrong. The first sentence! WORD BY WORD!

We were so awful on this trip that the introductory sentence to the review of the trip was carefully worded into 8 pieces of rebuke material. What happened? How could we cause so much trouble? As it happens, not every member of the nation participated in every event. Two large groups who caused notably less trouble were the women and the tribe of Levi. Sometimes, there was just a small group making trouble. Why make trouble at all, though?

If we review the events, we see that they’re often in times of stress. There’s no food. Moses seems late in returning and is presumed dead. The Egyptian army is bearing down on us. It was at times like these that people complained and acted out. Instead, they should have done something helpful or even just been patient and faithful in the God Who miraculously took them out of Egypt.

Can you think of the sort of person who might act like that on a campout? Which people often complain and cause trouble? The ones having a bad time. Sometimes there are legitimate reasons they’re having a bad time. Lost gear, getting hurt, ruined food, rain, and other difficulties are genuine problems that give everyone a hard time. What about complaints about less important things? Not enough dessert, the wrong color flashlight, and having to end an activity are not things to get upset about. What sort of person gets upset about them? Someone who hates camping.

Now, wait. Doesn’t a person hate camping because it’s unpleasant and he doesn’t have a good time? We can’t blame him for being upset, and God shouldn’t blame the complainers in the Midbar. They were having a tough time. Right?

Let me tell you about a young Scout who hated camping. From packing to unpacking, he would have a bad time. Sure, there’d be some enjoyable stuff in there somewhere, but boy did he have a bad time camping. The food was often good and plenty, but he sure hated camping. He loved to watch and listen to birds, but boy did he hate camping. Then, of course, something would go wrong and he’d be upset. More often than not, he’d complain to a leader. Some piece of work, this kid.

One campout, the patrol gets to cooking dinner, and it turns out they got chicken with bones instead of boneless. Well, that was it for this guy. Dinner was ruined. Big surprise, he winds up complaining to the Scoutmaster who asked: “Why are bones a problem?” At that moment, God opened the boy’s mind, and he was able to see that he’d been blowing things out of proportion for years. He understood then, that he could have a good time camping if he just stopped insisting on having a bad time camping.

The person who hates camping (or any situation) tends to be the person who has decided to hate camping. Now, everyone has a bad time sometimes. New Scouts may find it hard to adjust, and old Scouts may find it hard to be manage things, but it’s generally up to you whether you have a good time, and it’s certainly up to you whether you cause trouble.

You know what? After 20 years in Scouting, earning Eagle, achieving Brotherhood, and going to Philmont and Jamboree… I STILL hate camping! Yes, I’m the boy in the story, and I still have this haunting, bad feeling from packing through unpacking, but I sure do love hearing birds instead of cars.  I still hate camping, but boy does food taste better on a campout (especially when hiking). My sleeping pad isn’t as comfortable as my bed, but it’s good enough, and my bed is nowhere near walking distance to a sky filled inch by inch with stars.

I do still complain sometimes, but I try to keep my complaints to a bare minimum and share them only with my close friends. Of course, I don’t go around and harass people or interfere with activities. I’ve found that the harder I try to have a good time while camping, the better a time I have. Our mistake in the Midbar and my mistake on campouts was looking for trouble, and the consequence was finding it.

Shabbat shalom and have a good time (on purpose),


©2014 Nelson R. Block