This week, Rabbi Nicole Guzik and I are serving as Rabbis-in-Residence at Camp Ramah in Ojai, CA. Please enjoy the words that we sent to the families of Ramah campers.
While I cannot count the number of times I have put on tefillin, I do know that I have never been witness to or a participant in the process of creating a pair of tefillin…..Until today. How do you answer the question, “What happens at Jewish summer camp?” The typical responses are celebrate Shabbat, learn about and connect to Israel, and create strong Jewish relationships that will last a lifetime. Yet, today, I watched a group of incoming 8th graders create tefillin from scratch, with pieces of parchment spread out before them, while reciting lshem kedushat tefillin, for the sake of this sacred tefillin. These campers were literally praying with their hands.
Parhsat Ekev teaches us oto taavod, one should serve God. Rambam explains that while this mitzvah encompasses the entire Torah, there is also a specific command for us to include prayer in our lives. Sefer Hachinuch, which details the mitzvot of the Torah, teaches that prayer arouses our conscience and focuses all of our thoughts on the truths of the world. Rambam continues that the Torah did not tell us how many prayers to say, how many times to pray each day, or even the texts to recite. Yet, the Torah still gifts us the mitzvah to pray every day,
Prayer is known as avoda shebalev, the service of the heart. This is the experience one sees and feels at Camp Ramah. Children having casual conversations about God, about Torah, and about Israel. Children learning what it means to have meaningful prayer experiences. Children with an understanding that they are part of something larger than themselves. Hebrew as a lively, spoken language and Judaism as a lifestyle, not a religion, simply studied in books. Counselors sharing their relationships to God, openly and honestly. For each of these moments, Camp Ramah is truly a place where we pray with our hearts.