If memory serves correctly (and that is highly questionable), there’s a scene in Apollo 13 where the crew – through a process of running data, tracking coordinates, or whatever it is they do up there in space – realize that they have somehow drifted off course. It’s a slight drift, but enough that reentry into Earth’s atmosphere could be in severe jeopardy. So they follow a correcting procedure and prepare themselves for a “burn” that will get them back on track for the rest of their journey.

Unfortunately, all kinds of systems are down and they no longer have a way to orient themselves until … someone looks out the window and finds the moon. If he can keep it in his sights (easier said than done), he can make the necessary adjustments to set them back on course. And it worked! Not just in Hollywood, but in real life.

The more consistently we check the course of our journey, the more opportunity we have to make adjustments when they’re still relatively minor. But at least once a year, we devote ourselves to the process. During the month of Elul, we take our measurements and make an honest assessment of how much we’ve deviated off course. At Selichot, we begin the checklist in earnest that prepares ourselves for the High Holy Days, the “burn.”

And throughout the process, we keep in our sight the Torah and its teachings, its lessons and values – the guideposts of our tradition that mark the way to a meaningful life.

Free will.

At camp, nearly every moment of the day is scripted – for safety; for building community; for ensuring kids have the kind of tried-new-things, no-time-to-be-bored, home-away-from-home experience camp is meant to be. Even “free time” has its boundaries: You can be here, not here; if you haven’t straightened up your bunk or written a letter home or (younger boys, especially) had a shower in two days – now’s your chance, get it done.

But when Shabbat rolls around, the schedule goes out the window and an entire afternoon assumes the amorphous form of endless summer.

A white board in the dining hall fills with possibilities. Some are conventional – your standard basketball, lanyard making, nature hike. Some push the envelope – canoe racing, pyramid making, found object rock band. Still others are truly inspired – magic wand making in the kitchen may be my all-time favorite.

Yet, not everything is up for grabs. At the top of the board reads this seemingly oxymoronic heading:


Choose what you like from the list, but you must choose something. Doing nothing is not an option. Now go forth, on your own (in community), and explore!