The Physical and Spiritual Waters of Ramah Galim | Camp Ramah Northern California

The Physical and Spiritual Waters of Ramah Galim

I will never forget the first time I came to visit Ramah Galim. It was the year before camp opened. Rabbi Mitch Cohen, the National Director of Ramah asked me if I wanted to walk down with him to see the ocean. That in and of itself was remarkable: a summer camp, let alone a Jewish one, with access to the great sea. Unthinkable. And now, five years later and in our fourth full summer up and running, I still have my breath taken away every time I walk down to the beach to watch the sunset, to light the Havdallah candle after Shabbat, to watch our chanichim (campers) praying tefillot afloat or biking on the sand or boogie boarding through the waves. A magic fills the air when you get to see your children dance on the sand as the waves brush over their feet while one edah roasts marshmallows in the background and another looks out over the seas from the bluffs. This is our Ramah Galim.
Our Torah reading this week, Parashat Hukkat, reminds us of the gift of the waters. When Moses and Aaron’s sister, Miriam, dies, we learn that the waters suddenly dry up. As long as Miriam was alive, legend teaches, the people were blessed with water
in the wilderness. But as soon as she died, the springs of life vanished. According to Dr. Ellen Frankel, in her “Woman’s commentary on the Torah,” it was because of Miriam’s merits: “her powers of prophecy, her protection of her baby brother Moses, her skillful midwifery among the Hebrew slaves, and her victory song at the Sea of Reeds” that Miriam’s well helped the Israelites survive and thrive the most difficult of circumstances. Put differently, Miriam kindness toward others, her inner spirit, came with the reward of her own private wellspring of water, a mayyim hayim, a living water that externally sustained life, brought joy, healed the sick, and quenched the parched for all in her midst.
The 19th century rabbi, the S’fat Emet, teaches that Miriam’s well (Be’er in Hebrew) was one of the 10 things created on the eve of the first Shabbat as God finished creating the world. Why did God call it a be’er, a well, instead of a bor, a cistern? So teaches the S’fat Emet, a cistern contains only gathered water; its contents are limited by the size of the vessel that contains them. The well, however, is joined directly to the source of an ever-flowing spring. The same is true, he teaches, for a human being. Every soul contains an inner well of enlightenment and wisdom, and though always present, it’s only in certain moments like Shabbat or when camp is in session, when those wellsprings are opened for all to see.
In many ways, this is the gift of camp. Throughout the year, the wellspring of the ocean off the coast of Ramah Galim is ever flowing. Yet, it’s not until camp is up and running during the summer and especially during Shabbat of camp, that the internal soul of Galim comes alive. As we enter Shabbat, I plan to take in two different aspects of this mayyim hayim: the living waters that harken back to creation, to that Be’er, that wellspring that God gave to Miriam to share with the People of Israel, and that inner well that flows from within the spirit of Ramah Galim. Five years ago, there was one ever-flowing source of water at the mouth of a Camp about to be born. And now, from deep within the heart of the camp, during the week and on Shabbat, we now have an internal well, an enlightenment, a source of wisdom, a ruach (energy) and a joy that comes from the souls of our campers in our coming together as a kehillah, a sacred community. May the waters of Galim, from the sea and from the souls of each camper and tzevet member (staff), continue to flow and invigorate life for generations to come.