By Rabbi Shraga Freedman
It was an exciting day at Camp Chayos Hakodesh, a summer day camp in Denver. The counselors had announced that a trip had been scheduled to the local courthouse, where the campers would have the opportunity to watch an actual criminal trial. When they arrived, a police officer explained the workings of the court, and then they settled down to enjoy the show.
The trial was very exciting for the children. An Arab woman with a veil covering her face was brought into the court by a policeman, and it was announced that she was accused of having stolen from a store at gunpoint. The attorneys for the prosecution and the defense made their cases, and each side brought a witness to testify and be cross-examined. After fifteen minutes, it became clear that each of the two witnesses had given a different description of the accused; one claimed that she was dark-skinned, while the other maintained that she had a fair complexion. The judge ordered her to remove her veil, and she shook her head to indicate her refusal.
At the judge’s request, a police officer approached the woman and pulled the veil off her head. The campers gasped in shock, as it was revealed that the “defendant” was not an Arab woman at all, but one of their counselors, with his face painted blue and green. “Color war!” the counselor shouted, surprising and delighting the children.
The judge, the attorneys, and the police officers, all of whom were real, had graciously agreed to stage a mock trial for the boys as part of the color war breakout plan. “Order in the court!” the judge called, banging his gavel, as he produced a new sheaf of papers. The counselors had provided him with a short speech to read on the topic of sur mera and aseh tov; each of the color war teams was to represent one of the two concepts, and the campers were charged with learning about each of them and understanding the need for both. “It isn’t enough to stay away from evil,” the judge read aloud. “One must also contribute to goodness.”
The police officers later complimented the counselors on the campers’ excellent behavior during the mock trial, offering their services if the camp staff ever wished to repeat the experience. But perhaps the most fascinating reaction was that of the judge himself. When the head counselor thanked the judge for his involvement, the man replied, “Actually, I should be the one to thank you for asking me to do this, because I really learned a lot from it. When I was explaining the themes and speaking about how a person must constantly evaluate his life, making sure to avoid bad deeds and constantly do good things, it stirred me to realize that I should be making the same type of calculations about myself and my own life. I never thought about life in this sense, and the mock trial made me think about my own life and how I should really make sure that I am always doing what I should, and I thank you for that.”
Incredibly, a week later Rabbi Chaim Sher owner of camp Chayos Hakodesh gets a call from a non-Jewish lady with the following request: Her son had gotten himself in trouble with shop lifting and the Judge had sentenced him to 16 hours of community work, the judge then suggested that his work should be done for Camp Chayos Hakodesh a religious camp where the children are taught and practice high standards of behavior, he would benefit greatly from being around such a group of boys (the judge knows them personally since he was involved in their color war breakout). She was calling now her voice filled with hope and a hint of desperation, to ask if perhaps the camp has any work for her son.
Rav Eliyahu Dessler (Michtav Me’Eliyahu vol. 4 p. 301) raises a fascinating question: If the Jews of previous generations, who lived on such an exalted level of kedushah, were unable to generate the degree of kovod shomayim necessary to bring about the geulah, how can we hope to do so in our own spiritually impoverished generation? He explains that since the darkness in the world around us has grown so intense and pervasive, and the world has experienced such a massive spiritual decline, even a small amount of spiritual light can have a much greater effect. We do not have to be extraordinary people or Torah giants. The concepts of sur mera and aseh tov, of course, are basic Torah concepts, yet they (and of course the campers) evidently made a profound impression on a man whose entire career revolves around the concept of a system of values and justice. In this time of overwhelming spiritual darkness, let us do our best to create as many points of light as we can, as small as they may be, and we will surely reap the fruits of our efforts.
This story was shared by Rabbi Chaim Sher to Rabbi Shraga Freedman, author of Living Kiddush Hashem. For a free download of sefer Mekadshei Shemcha and other resources please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.