It is hard to describe the feeling of welcoming in Shabbat. You must experience it in order to be able to describe it. That is because welcoming in Shabbat is not only a thought in our minds, but an action of our bodies and souls. The prayer Lcha Dodi tells us sof maaseh bmachshava tchila, “To Welcome the Shabbat, let us go, for it is the source of blessing; from the beginning, from antiquity she was honored, last in deed but first in thought.”
Interestingly enough, while Shabbat was created last, it was first in God’s thought. In our Torah portion of Matot-Massei, we read of the journeys of the Jewish people through the wilderness. The Torah first states, “Moshe wrote their goings forth according to their journeys,” but then reverses it and states, “These were their journeys according to their goings forth.” In essence, what part of our journey is first and what part of our journey is last?
Our Rabbis compare this odd sentence in the Torah to a carpenter who wishes to build a table. First he must cut the wood, smooth it and sand it, and then fashion the table. The table exists in his mind even before he has done anything to create it. Yet, the table does not actually exist until he finishes all of the work.
This Shabbat, Rabbi Guzik and I will be at Camp Ramah in beautiful Ojai. We have visions of our magical summer; new friendships, reacquainting with old counselors, learning new tefillot, and singing the songs of our past. When these dreams become reality, when the campers walk up to the Camp Ramah hill, dressed in white, accompanied by their fellow bunkmates, this is the true essence of Shabbat. Our thoughts live out in deed. We literally create this sacred time.
Thankfully, these moments are not solely designated to Shabbat. Each year, Rabbi Guzik and I are inspired and recharged by our Shabbat at Camp Ramah. Watching the education of our Sinai Temple campers and counselors be put into practice is a true shehecheyanu moment. Yet, the true joy comes weeks and even months later; when we see a child in the classroom, hallway, or sanctuary and ask them where they learned to give a dvar Torah, where they learned to lead the Amidah, or where they learned to put on tefillin. They respond, “Camp Ramah.” That is when thought has been put into deed; that is when we are fully cognizant that Camp Ramah is not about coming to camp or going home to our synagogue communities, but that our Jewish journey is a contiguous path that we pray shall never cease.