Guest D’var Torah: Journeying and Memory | Camp Ramah Northern California

Guest D’var Torah: Journeying and Memory

Among a whole host of exciting moments at camp this week, I was struck by the joy our hanichim (campers) expressed about their masaot—the journeys they embarked upon away from our beautiful campus.

The unique flora and fauna of the Santa Cruz Mountains’ redwood forests, along with the deep learning about marine ecology available at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, as well as the artistic expression of the theater all richly imprinted themselves in our minds creating lasting memories to be recalled and revisited in the months and years to come.

As a rabbi and educator, there is nothing more fulfilling than to watch children and teens expand their horizons of perception in new and different places—allowing new experiences and environments to imprint themselves in the form of memories.

Ramah Galim’s masaot this week occurred in confluence the Torah’s recounting of stations that comprised our people’s forty-year journey through the wilderness to the Land of Israel. Our rabbis and teachers wondered why the Torah deemed it necessary to recount that which had already been shared earlier in the Torah in “real-time”. In other words, what is the value in recalling and remembering the details of our journeys?

A text from rabbinic literature affirms the power of recounting the memories of our journeys by comparing the Torah’s retelling of our people’s journey that of a king who had taken his child to a distant place. On the return journey, the king would stop at each resting place and remind his child: this is where we found shelter; this is where we cooled off at an oasis. For the rabbis, the recounting of journey in this week’s Torah reading is not a mere experience of nostalgia. Rather, it is coupled with the knowledge that recalling journeys can enrich and affirm that which we gained or learned in each locale. Another text from rabbinic literature teaches that each station of the Israelites’ journey conveyed an essential experience necessary for their collective maturation after centuries of enslavement. In following the Torah’s lead, we can more deeply assimilate the lessons our journeys’ gift us by recalling, revisiting, and sharing our memories of them with others.

I was blessed to join some of our campers in their journey to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and was particularly struck by the intention and commitment hanichim expressed in seeking to help protect our marine ecosystems through consuming more sustainable fish species. Many took pocket-sized cards to help them remember once they return home. This week, both the Torah and Ramah Galim’s hanichim reminded me that our journeys in life not only help us learn about new places but also deepen our wisdom and knowledge in ways that might impact our actions in the places we call home.


Rabbi Philip Ohriner just concluded his tenure as spiritual leader of Congregation Beth David in Saratoga, CA and is currently developing Ma’alot Farms, a permaculture-based ecosystem and environmental education center in the Santa Cruz mountains.