By Gabi Wasserman
We are currently on the threshold of celebrating Sukkot, the only pilgrimage festival referred to as Zman Simchateinu, “the time of our rejoicing.” During Sukkot we partake in the mitzvah of leaving our permanent homes of comfort and establishing a temporary residence that is exposed to the outside elements. The BaMidbar student experience parallels our Sukkot traditions: leaving our comfort zones to come to a place where we may feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. It is precisely in a context of discomfort and vulnerability that our tradition calls us to channel zman simchateinu, the “time of our rejoicing.” It is in these moments that we are commanded to adopt the attitude of simcha, to bring joy into even our most challenging circumstances.
One of BaMidbar’s core values is simcha, joy. The main distinction between joy and happiness is that happiness is an emotion that can be fleeting – darting in and out of our reality, while joy is an attitude and perhaps even an action. Joy is a state that we can enter into at will to create times of celebration and jubilation. This is an important distinction because we don’t need to have a constantly happy, carefree life in order to celebrate or experience joy. As Jews, Simcha is essential to our lives. Often our lives present challenges and it can seem like the work in front of us is insurmountable. In these times it is crucial to be able to choose to experience simcha and bring joy into our reality. Simcha reminds us that no matter what our circumstances are, there are still things within our control – the ability to come together as a community and celebrate the blessings in our lives, as numerous or as few as they might seem. This reminder gives us the strength and ability to go back into tough circumstances with renewed determination to improve ourselves and our situations.
BaMidbar is by nature a challenging place to be. We don’t have the basic comforts that are available to many of us living in the 21st century in the United States. We are in the wilderness, away from our homes, and are confronting some of the deepest and at times darkest parts of ourselves. That is why it is important for us to hold simcha as a core value. It can be a night of simcha, such as when we celebrated Purim by doing a dramatic reading of Megillat Esther followed by comical skits. It can be a moment of simcha, such as taking a short break from hiking to tell a ridiculous joke or parody a pop-song. Whatever the opportunity, at BaMidbar there is a shared understanding amongst our team that circumstances are never so dire that we cannot bring simcha into a moment, a minute or an hour of our day. Ultimately, we believe that this attitude will better equip our participants to face the challenges that catalyzed their arrival to BaMidbar, as well as the future challenges they will face long after they leave our program.
As BaMidbar begins its second season, my hope for us as both an organization and a broader community of individuals encountering various mental, emotional or spiritual struggles is that we always remember to take the time to find and choose to invite simcha into our lives. Through the practice of simcha, may we find joy together as a community and continue to face our individual challenges with the renewed vigor, enthusiasm and strength that simcha brings us.
Gabi grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona where he attended Arizona State University and graduated with a degree in Mathematics. After working in a corporate office for a year, Gabi decided to start a different path and moved to Colorado, where he has been ever since. Gabi was a part of the first team of field staff to work at BaMidbar and he will be returning this fall as the Logistics Coordinator. When he is not working at BaMidbar, Gabi is most likely to be found in Denver swing dancing, riding his bike or enjoying a good sleep.
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Bamidbar Wilderness Therapy is a program of Ramah in the Rockies.