Blog | Camp Ramah Northern California - Part 2




After the Plague: Parshsat Pinchas by Rabbi Ben Goldberg

There is a peculiar verse toward the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Pinhas. The portion begins with the aftermath of the zealous act of Pinhas, Aaron’s grandson, who violently intervenes to stop the people’s idolatrous apostasy at Baal Pe’or, ending the accompanying plague. Pinhas is granted a covenant of peace in response to his actions, and the people are commanded to “assail the Midianites” in retaliation.

We then get our curious half verse: “When the plague was over…God said to Moses and to Eleazar son of Aaron the priest, “Take a census of the whole Israelite community” (Numbers 25:19-26:2). The ellipsis here represents that the verse abruptly ends there; there is even a paragraph break in the text of the Torah before resuming with the new topic of the census of the people.

Critical Bible scholars suggest that perhaps this is an indication that the census and what follows was inserted here into the Torah, which would have otherwise continued with the story of the war with Midian, which we finally do read in chapter 31.

But this year, and after my wonderful time at Ramah Galim last week, I am more interested in the spiritual implications of the Torah inserting a pause “when the plague was over.” Perhaps the Torah is telling us that after experiencing the disruption, devastation, and loss of a plague (something that once happened every decade and not every century), we cannot simply move on. We need time to take stock, to reflect on lessons learned, before we simply move on to the next thing.

As I immersed myself for the first time in the Ramah Galim community last week, this is precisely what I saw. On that first morning, I led tefilot (prayers) for Solelim (the rising 6th and 7th graders) and I asked the chanichim (campers) to share something they were grateful for as we sang Modeh Ani. One offered: “I’m grateful to be at camp.”


Mah Tov How Great is the Tent of Camp-Parashat Balk by Rabbi Corey Helfand

Words cannot truly express how amazing it is to be back at Ramah Galim. After one of the most intense years of our lives, filled with challenges and losses, including not being able to go to camp last summer, “Mah Tov”, how great it is to finally be together again. So many little things with such profound impact. Listening to laughter shared by our kids. Watching them climb the rock wall, do Israeli dancing on the kikar (field), and of course, boogie board and surf at our very own private ocean front. “Mah Tov,” how awesome it truly is.
In this week’s Torah portion, Balak, the king of Moab, having heard the news of Israel’s triumphant defeats over neighboring enemies, perceives Israel as a threat. Balak hires Bilaam, a sorcerer of sorts, to curse the Israelites. God, however, makes it clear to Bilaam that he is not to curse Israel under any circumstance. Bilaam, despite God’s warning, is tempted by an offer of riches in exchange for cursing our ancestors. In the end, God warns Bilaam that no matter what his intention, he will ultimately have no control over the words that come out of his own mouth. Instead of offering the curse as demanded by Balak, Bilaam instead offers a beautiful, legendary blessing: “Mah Tovu O’halekha Ya’akov Mishk’notekha Yisrael—How great are your dwellings, people of Jacob, your sanctuaries, descendants of Israel.” So profound were these words that they have since become a fixed part of our daily prayers, recited upon first entering a synagogue. Or for me, this year, upon reentering the sacred sanctuary of Ramah Galim.


Parashat Behar, by Amy Skopp Cooper, National Ramah Associate Director

In Parashat Behar, we read about the Shemita (Sabbatical) and Yovel (Jubilee) years that Israelite farmers and landowners were commanded to observe.  Every seventh year, crops could not be planted and the land was allowed to rest. Every 50th year, land was returned to its original owner.  Some rabbinic sages have taught that the purpose of the Shemita was to demonstrate to people that the earth belongs to God and is only entrusted to human beings. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the Chief Rabbi of Israel before 1948, taught that the purpose of the Jubilee Year was to bring about unity among people by restoring self-respect among the poor and closing the gap between the rich and the poor.


Hands of Time: Parshat Yitro

I’ve always been fascinated by daylight savings time, this notion that you can literally change time – something that, to me, intuitively feels fixed – simply by moving the hands on a clock, pressing a few buttons on your microwave, or magically seeing your phone adjust to the season.

I thought about time when looking at this week’s Torah portion, Yitro. First, I find it ironic that the parashah is the shortest in the Book of Exodus since it references time which is infinite. Yitro, who might very well be a “management consultant” today, looks at time as something to be valued in ourselves and others. He appeals to Moses to not take on the burden of hearing every Israelite’s dispute and to not be the judge and jury for all. Yes, the disputes are important, Yitro acknowledges, but rather than spending from morning until evening micromanaging everyone’s problems, let the people handle the more minor issues. Give them the opportunity to problem-solve, to devise creative solutions, and to be leaders. Allow them to share the community’s burden.


Shemot as a Model for Shared Leadership

In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Shemot, we are introduced to Moshe. Moshe is eventually appointed to lead the Israelites out of Egypt to begin their journey towards the land of Canaan. While the book of Shemot and the rest of the Torah might be commonly viewed as the story of the broader journey of B’nai Yisrael’s triumphs and tribulations along the way, there are also many lessons to be learned about Moshe’s journey as a leader. Reading this Parsha has inspired me to reflect on how my tzevet (staff) experience has shaped me into the camp leader I am today. 


The book of Shemot is the beginning of a journey (or the “first day of camp”) of a leader who not only develops his own skills, but has the wisdom to gain insight from those around him.

One of the most valuable things I learned as a tzevet member is to not only have strong leadership skills as an individual but to lead as a team and collaborate with your fellow tzevet members.