As we begin our final Shabbat together, Mitzvah Corps New Orleans will take a moment to reflect on our collective individuality. That term may seem like an oxymoron to some and in many ways it is. In other ways, it is a perfect description of our Mitzvah Corps experience.
This week’s parsha is a double whammy, literally. In Matot-Masei (Numbers 30:2 – 36:13), Moses begrudgingly allows the tribes of Reuben and Gad to settle the land on the east of the Jordan River to raise their cattle. For the life of him, Moses cannot understand why these two tribes would prefer to stay on the eastern bank of the river, rather than venturing into the land that God had bestowed to them across the river. Was it for their own economic benefit? Was the area more beneficial for life to prosper? Or were they just being difficult? Rabbi Vered L. Harris identifies a major theme to be taken from this portion: “Who among us can presume to know the motivation for the direction others take? Ultimately, how we prioritize ourselves, regard God, and treat those around us are the important factors for determining a path.” This theme speaks volumes to us when reflecting on our participants’ collective individuality.
Before each trip, the staff and participants have phone calls to break the ice a little bit and get to know one another. During these calls, we asked participants why they chose to spend part of their summer in New Orleans, or why they chose Mitzvah Corps in general, and rarely are two answers ever the same. All of our teens come from different backgrounds and therefore each teen has their own motivation for attending a Mitzvah Corps program with each reason being equally valid. The only prerequisite to being on a Mitzvah Corps trip is having the desire to be an active agent of change in our society. We may have begun as a group of relatively unknown individuals, but we will depart New Orleans on Sunday with a collective identity and a single goal in mind: to take what we have learned and experienced and use those tools to be active agents of change in our own communities.
Jordy, Caleb, and Adam
Mitzvah Corps New Orleans 2017 Program Staff