“Hello, Shaindy. How was your first day at camp?”

“It was great, Mommy,” burbled Shaindy excitedly. “We had such a good time that I don’t feel sorry anymore about not going to overnight camp.”

“Who is your counselor? Is she nice?”

“Oh Mommy! She’s the best! At first, we were really disappointed. She seemed so strict. She kept talking about all the camp rules. She wouldn’t let us play on the roof, and she said shiur time was going to be just like class.

“But then we saw that she wasn’t just being firm because she was a stubborn person. We asked to have extra swim time and the swimming counselor said ‘No’ at first. Then Leah, our counselor, became very insistent, just as firm as she was when she spoke about the rules. She convinced the swimming counselor and we had a ball.

“And you know, Mommy, it really wasn’t so bad to have shiur like class. Everybody was quiet and listened. Leah is really as good as Morah Chani.”

* * *

Shaindy’s counselor seems like the type of person who has learned a lesson from the name of Parshas Mattos.

In this parshah, the Torah lists the numbers of the Jewish people, counting them by tribe. The tribes are called mattos, which means “staffs,” because the head of each tribe carried a staff of leadership. The tribes are also called shevatim, which means “rods.”

What is the difference between a rod and a staff? Both are sticks, but a rod can be bent, while a staff is firm and hard.

A rod is a stick which has been freshly cut or is still connected to the tree from which it grew. But a staff is a stick which has been cut from its tree a long time ago. Over time, it has become dry, hard and firm.

Before our neshamos come to this world they are like rods — connected to HaShem and easily bending in the direction of His holiness. But here, our neshamos are enclosed in bodies and are like staffs — HaShem’s holiness is not easily felt.

But that doesn’t mean that being hard and firm is bad. Just like Shaindy’s counselor, Leah, who showed the girls that firmness can be good, our neshamos need to be strong in this world so that we can fulfill HaShem’s will.

(Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XVIII, p. 378ff)