She was tiny. She was shy. She was a picky eater. She regularly got her brother into trouble. She manipulated her father in every way possible to satisfy her whims. She had us convinced she’d never leave home.
And then, twelve years ago this weekend we celebrated my daughter’s bat mitzvah atop Masada in Israel. It was on that Thursday morning in July that I first noticed the change in her. The confidence and poise I witnessed were new; both surprising and encouraging. It was her choice to have her special day there. Her torah portion, Balak, was set in the Moabite mountains and she wanted to celebrate with those same mountains serving as the backdrop for her rite of passage.
I now believe that place possesses a magical power to transform lives.
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In this week’s torah reading, the evil prophet Balaam was directed by Balak to curse the people of Israel. Instead, upon seeing their encampment, he found himself blessing them by saying, “How goodly are your tents, Jacob; your dwelling places, Israel” (Numbers 24:5). The repetition, referring to two forms of housing, is puzzling. What’s the significance of an ohel (tent) versus a mishkan (dwelling place)? And what’s the reason for invoking the two names of Jacob? Given my recent move to a new house, I feel qualified to offer an opinion.
A tent is a very portable, temporary and transient type of shelter. It reminds us of camping out for a night somewhere along a journey…a journey that challenges us – as it challenged Jacob – to adapt, change, and grow. The transitional nature of moving (for example, living in houses surrounded by boxes and construction debris or moving apartments every few years) is very character-building.
A mishkan, however, is different. It is a place in which God dwells among the other residents. It is a home that is infused with values and good deeds. It is an environment that enables a way of life that encourages spiritual growth and fulfillment. When the boxes are unpacked, the Judaica is placed on the shelves, and the mezuzot are affixed to the doorposts, it is a residence that reveals to all what’s important.
Whether the Jewish people wandered the desert or settled in their homeland of Israel, the extent of God’s presence in their midst is the difference maker.
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She turns twenty-five tomorrow. My daughter has changed dramatically from the girl she once was. She’s not tiny (she’s 5’ 9”.) She’s not shy. She’s not a picky eater. She loves her brother (and sister-by-marriage.) She still manipulates her father (and her mother too.) She left home and lives an eleven-hour-drive away. It’s been amazing to watch her journey unfold and see the evolution of her character. While she was raised with a solid foundation, I can’t help but be proud of how she’s made it her own so far.
What will her next chapter be? Time will tell.
Happy birthday, Sweetheart. Remember, you can pack up your tent and come home any time….just give me time to finish unpacking the boxes in the guest room…