From a textual standpoint, this is a wonderful Shabbat. Our Parsha, VaEtchanan, features the second recitation of the Aseret haDibrot, or the more colloquial “Ten Commandments”, as well as the first paragraph and opening line of Shema Yisrael. This is also Shabbat Nachamu, the first after Tisha B’Av, a day of comfort and reconciliation, with its haftorah taken from the prophetic voice of Isaiah. Of course, texts only get us so far; to paraphrase Rabbi Heschel, what we need are fewer text books and more text people.
It has been a privilege to spend the past week up here at Camp Ramah Galim. I have witnessed beautiful acts of hesed, inspired moments of learning and Torah in action. Of course, this camp is uniquely positioned in the landscape of Jewish camping: where else are campers davening Shacharit in the morning and Birkat HaMazon after meals, while filling their days with scuba instruction, surfing, biking, horseback riding, and kayaking?
Camp Ramah is simply filled with text people. Daily they live by a principle found in our Torah this Shabbat, and recited twice daily: וְשִׁנַּנְתָּ֣ם לְבָנֶ֔יךָ – And you shall teach this to your children (Deuteronomy 6:4). There is a loving mentorship that happens at camp every day. Counselors motivate and encourage their campers to push themselves a little bit harder, to engage in new experiences and overcome their fears and apprehensions. I have witnessed campers helping each other, building each other up rather than breaking each other down. Torah is not relegated to specific moments of Jewish learning; rather, it permeates every inch of this beautiful camp: at the beach, in the pool, in the hadar ochel, and in the Bayit.
We do not reserve the notion of educating the next generation for only the annual cycle of Torah readings. We include it in our liturgy at both Shacharit and Ma’ariv when we recite Shema. Just as there are reminders within the text (mezuzot on our gates and doors, Tefillin and Tzitzit), our recitation reminds us of the need for special places such as Camp Ramah. We are instilling in our campers the value of Jewish community, ritual and learning side by side with individual and group challenges and opportunities for growth. There is simply no place like Camp Ramah.
Rabbi Scott Westle