Uriel Vigler

Fleeing my first camping experience

A group of friends I grew up with in South Africa go camping regularly, and I’ve been wanting to join them for a while now. They talk about it so often, and with such passion, that I wanted to see what it’s all about. I went to Walmart and purchased a tent, flashlights and other essential supplies. Then I packed myself, two of my sons, and all our gear into the car and we drove upstate to Woodland Valley.

The veteran campers among us showed me how to set up the tent and make sure the cover is firmly secured. Then we built a bonfire, had a barbecue, and bonded over drinks. Living in the city, the kind of darkness we experienced out there is unlike anything my kids know. There was not a solitary light around. They loved it!

For an addict like me, the lack of phone and internet was challenging, but I do it for 25 hours each week over Shabbat, so I knew I could manage.

Then we all went to bed. At home, bed is my favorite part of the day! But here I was squeezed into a tent that barely fit the three of us. No comfortable mattress, no thick blanket, no electricity or indoor plumbing. Just us and nature and a flimsy tent between us.

After tossing and turning for a couple of hours, I finally fell asleep, only to be awakened by heavy rain at 2am! I couldn’t sleep, so I went outside for a walk. I was tired, dripping wet, and deeply missing the comforts of home. I tried to fall asleep again, with my kids kicking me in their sleep every few minutes as they tried to get comfortable themselves. I thought of taking shelter in the car, but I couldn’t find my keys in the dark.

By 6:00am when dawn broke and the rain kept coming down in buckets, I realized my seasoned camping friends were still in their tents loving this, bad weather and all! I took the opportunity to make my move. I packed up all our bags, disassembled the tent, hastily filled the car and headed for home with my boys. Two hours later, we were back in the comforts of home. We were supposed to be there for at least two nights but I lasted barely one!

We find ourselves now in the month of Elul. All year, we roam, often finding ourselves distant from G-d, the Torah, and spirituality. But now, as we approach the High Holidays, it’s time to come home.

Our soul is uncomfortable in the body, as I was in the tent. It’s an agonizing exile for something so sublime. It longs to return to the lofty comforts of heaven, especially when we starve it of spirituality. Now’s our time to feed it, to make it feel at home here in our bodies, in this earthly world, as we engage in increased Torah study and mitzvah observance. It longs to reconnect and so do we. Our soul yearns for the comfort of its spiritual home!

As for camping… will I give it another try? Who knows! I may be willing to brave it down the line, but will my friends ever let me join them again?! That’s the real question.


About the Author
Zimbabwean-born Rabbi Uriel Vigler has been directing the Chabad Israel Center of the Upper East Side of Manhattan together with his wife Shevy since 2005. In addition, he founded Belev Echad which helps wounded IDF soldiers. He has a weekly blog on current events. He is the proud father of eight children (including triplets) and leads a very young, vibrant and dynamic community.
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