Camp News

HaMirpeset Shelanu 283: From Golda Kaplan

Posted on April 21, 2017

Please enjoy a D’var Torah this week from Golda Kaplan, Rosh Shoafim 2017. Originally from Chicago, Golda spent six years as a camper at Ramah and this will be her fourth summer on staff. She is graduating next month from the University of Pennsylvania where she studies Sociology. In August, she will begin a year of service through AmeriCorps at a high school in Philadelphia, supporting high school juniors and seniors in the college application process.

Reflections on Parashat Shemini
by Golda Kaplan

As the year progresses and we move farther away from the simple family tree of Jacob and his twelve sons, I often forget that the Torah is ultimately a family drama.  While Moses and Aaron may be leaders of the Israelites in the desert, they are also brothers. I find the familial relationships between Aaron and his sons to be crucial to understanding the story of this week’s parashah, Sh’mini.

In the most confusing and shocking scene in this week’s parsha, two of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, offer what is described as an “aish zarah”, translated as an alien or strange fire. When they do so, God sends fire to consume them and the brothers die. This is a pretty violent end. The brothers have clearly deviated from typical sacrificial practices, but what I want to focus on is the series of verses leading up to Nadav and Avihu’s strange sacrifice. The section beforehand details Aaron preparing and performing multiple animal sacrifices. Aaron’s sons help their father: they bring him supplies, separate parts of the sacrifices, and look on as their father blesses the people. Priestly sacrifices are the family business for Aaron and his sons and the parashah shows that they are all willing to help out.

In contrast, let’s look closer at the details of Nadav and Avihu trying to make their own sacrifice to God. Rather than a malicious act, I see two brothers trying to emulate their father, a man who earlier was able to wow the people with his blessing and sacrifice – but also try to add their own flair. They act with the hope that they too can wield this power and be like their father. Their experiment comes from a place of love and appreciation. Nadav and Avihu evidently strayed too far, struggling to balance what they were taught and given by their father, and their desire to make it their own.

This resonates with my camp experience and the opportunities offered for personal exploration.

Being at camp, away from the rhythms of home life and parents, provides an incredible opportunity to actually appreciate the things that, for the rest of the year, feel so mundane.  As a camper, I loved receiving letters from my parents describing their fairly boring summer days back in Chicago. I came to appreciate the fact that they wrote my initials on every sock and bottle of sunscreen.

I also came to appreciate the safe environment of camp to experiment with the familiar habits and choices of home.  At camp you might realize that after all these years you actually do like green beans, or learn there’s a more efficient way to fold your t-shirts, or find a new tune for Adon Olam. Camp is a place to appreciate all that your family and home have passed down to you and to then begin your own thoughtful process of making decisions for yourself.

Nadav and Avihu may fail in walking the line between emulating their father and asserting independence, but luckily for us every summer at camp offers the opportunity to reassess this balance, recognizing where we come from while asking questions and trying new things in a supportive community.

Shabbat shalom.

HaMirpeset Shelanu 282: From Jared Skoff

Posted on April 7, 2017

Please enjoy a D’var Torah this week from Jared Skoff, Rosh Tikvah 2017. Originally from Cleveland, Jared spent the past three summers at Ramah Wisconsin, after working at Ramah Canada for three summers. This is Jared’s second year working year-round for Camp Ramah, last year as a Ramah Service Corps Fellow in Detroit, and this year as the Development Associate & Special Projects Coordinator at the National Ramah headquarters in New York City. He is the youngest dues-paying member of The Workmen’s Circle.

Reflections on Pesach
by Jared Skoff

I don’t own a whisk in my New York City apartment.

Every time I scramble eggs or make a salad dressing, I lament, “I wish I had a whisk, it would make my life so much easier.” And every time, I quickly grab a fork and move on with my day.

While it is true that I can use a fork to accomplish many of the same tasks as a whisk, my underlying thought process is troubling. I feel frustrated, but I act as if I am powerless to change this deficiency in my silverware drawer, as if this is simply the reality I must face.

We all have deficiencies or imperfections in our life that we are upset about, but are unmotivated to change. Some are minor, and some major. Sometimes it is not a whisk but an empty soap bottle that we stubbornly keep refilling with water instead of buying a new one, or a friend that we keep forgetting to reach out to and call.

There is an expression in Yiddish – vos far a Purim, a-zah Pesach, meaning, if your Purim is bad, don’t expect Pesach to be any better.

In other words, sometimes we know the status quo is not working for us, but we continue to sweep our issues under the rug, and illogically hope for them to disappear. We know that we want a change, but something is holding us back. We feel powerless or reluctant to step up.

At our Pesach seders this week we will celebrate, retell, and perform the Jews’ ancient liberation from slavery. The haggadah charges us with exerting our freedom, while actively remembering our ancestors’ lack thereof. The Torah repeatedly reminds its readers that the Jews were strangers and slaves in Egypt, suggesting that our collective past should continue to inform the way we interact with our fellow human beings.

Pesach comes as a reminder that we are not powerless; we were slaves but now we are free. We are hereby empowered to address what is insufficient in our lives – by changing what we can, and finding strength in situations that we hope to change.

“We were slaves in the land of Egypt” means “no excuses” – we are not slaves to a hopeless state of mind, nor to our own laziness.

At camp we are faced with issues every day that we are tempted to neglect. We have all had a bunkmate who is intolerably messy (or obsessively neat), a friend who we have clashed with, and a tarbut/elective assignment that is frustrating. We may not have the power to make every decision at camp, but we have the power to address our negative situations – either by repairing our status quo, or by making the best of our current reality.

We have another Pesach-related expression in Yiddish – meh meynt nisht di hagodeh, nor di kneydlekh, literally, he’s here moreso for the matzo balls than for the haggadah.

Not everyone at the seder can relate to the haggadah, as we learn from the reading of the Four Children. Some seder guests are able to gain more positive feelings from the matzo balls than from the haggadah – and that is okay. Each of us relates to and processes experiences in different ways, whether at the seder, at camp, or at school. Whether you are at the seder for the matzo balls or for the haggadah, you ultimately have the opportunity to experience both. I hope we can all derive enjoyment from the aspects of our experience that speak to us, and derive strength from the aspects that we struggle with, whether that be the haggadah, the guests at the seder, or the friend we still need to reach out to. In doing so, we can liberate our way of living.

HaMirpeset Shelanu 281: From Daniella Elyashar

Posted on March 31, 2017

Please enjoy a d’var Torah this week from Rosh Machon 2017 (entering 10th grade) Daniella Elyashar. Daniella studies Education, History of Israel and Contemporary Judaism at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. This summer will be her fourth summer at camp as a member of the Mishlachat.

Reflections on Parashat Vayikra
by Daniella Elyashar

Physical spaces can sometimes mean much more to us than just the actual space itself. What is the importance of defining these spaces in our lives?

In this week’s Parashah, Vayikra, B’nai Yisrael (the Israelites) are given an extensive list of different korbanot (sacrifices) appropriate for various situations.

When B’nai Yisrael wanders around in the desert for 40 years, they are obligated to establish a Mishkan (sanctuary). The Mishkan has two purposes. The first is as a place to sacrifice the korbanot as listed in Parashat Vayikra, and the second is to serve as a designated point of spiritual connection between B’nai Yisrael and God.

So is there only one specific place where you can feel connected to God, or to your spirituality? B’nai Yisrael spent an entire generation in the desert. They were obviously caught up in their day to day life: getting food, walking for hours and hours, getting from place to place. In some ways, God made it easier for them. Instead of searching for a way to find spirituality within their normal lives, God said they must build the Mishkan. This place would now be a set physical area where they could disconnect from the world and try to connect to God directly.

This reminds me of camp, especially as I reflect on my day to day life in Jerusalem. I find myself so caught up in school, work and social activities.  It’s very much a constant race to just get to the next place, just like B’nai Yisrael. I know that camp helps me connect to my Jewish identity, my culture, my friends, the person I am and the person I want to be.

Naming all the specific korbanot gives a sense of structure and framing to B’nai Yisrael in the desert. There is something mechanical about this parashah specifically, and in the book of Vayikra in general. For some, the importance of camp isn’t just about physically disconnecting, but rather about the scheduled, routine Jewish lifestyle. Waking up in the morning and heading straight to Shacharit prayers, saying Birkat Hamazon after meals and Shabbat dinners are only some of the ways that Judaism informs our day to day life at camp.

The fact that there are two very distinct reasons behind building the Mishkan indicates that even in the parashah, there is an acknowledgment that different people connect to Judaism in numerous ways. The physical space of camp allows us to focus for two months on our spirituality and Jewish identity in a way that is not possible in other spaces. It allows us to build connections that we are not able to develop without being in the physical space of camp and all it contains.  Whether it’s God, our spirituality, a strong and meaningful connection between friends, or a routine Jewish schedule, our culture and community are all cultivated into one physical place.  That special place makes it possible to take a breath of fresh Northwoods air and step outside the pressures of our day to day lives.

I’m so excited we get to go back in just a few months!

Shabbat Shalom.

HaMirpeset Shelanu 280: From Jonah Harris

Posted on March 23, 2017

Jonah Harris will be the Rosh Aidah for Sollelim this summer. Jonah is from Highland Park Illinois. This is his 18th summer in camp; spending 5 summers in Rishonim, 7 as a camper, and this will be his 6th summer on staff. Jonah graduated from Tufts University in 2015 and since then has been working as a structural engineer in Chicago. This fall he will begin a master’s degree program in structural engineering.

Reflections on Parashat Vayakhel/Pekudei
by Jonah Harris

“וַיֵּצְאוּ כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, מִלִּפְנֵי מֹשֶׁה.”
Vayeitz’u kol-adat b’nei-yisrael milifnei moshe.
“So the whole community of [campers] left [their parents’] presence” –Exodus 35:20 (paraphrased by Jonah Harris).

Before the Israelites built the Mishkan, the sanctuary in which God’s presence will dwell, Moses brought the people together and told them that each person should contribute however they can, using their own skills and materials, to the construction of the Mishkan. When it came time to build the Mishkan, the community then went on their own, without their leader Moses, to build a holy space.

Thinking about parashat Vayakhel/ Pekudei, I could mention the importance of physical creations to sanctify a location and describe the beautiful works of art created by campers and staff that decorate our physical space at camp.  I could discuss how valuable it is for a child to exist in a community where he or she can contribute both to the external and internal community spaces. Rather than expound on these points, I want to focus on what the Israelites did right before they created the Mishkan, when they left their leader, Moses, the man who brought them to that glorious day in the desert and gave them the values that they would follow for millennia.

Before campers arrive at camp, they leave their homes and their families.  This is part of the magic of summer camp – we have to leave the familiar to truly thrive.  The metaphor of a plant pervades our language around this:  we uproot ourselves in one setting in order to grow in an unfamiliar one.

Just as the Israelites came together to build the Mishkan, each camper brings what she can to Ramah, each according to her abilities, knowledge, and skills. Camp has myriad outlets for each child to find a way to shine – in the arts, in sports, in swimming, reading Torah, and by being a “mensch.”

Without Moses, the Israelites needed leadership, and our parashah gives us Bezalel, who emerges as a skilled craftsman of many trades. The Israelites rely on him to lead the building process of the Mishkan, and he uses his divinely-inspired talents to enhance the Mishkan’s construction and design. At camp, our counselors channel Bezalel’s role to make their own magic, utilizing the different skills and passions they possess to develop relationships with campers.  Like Bezalel did, the construction and design of our camp community relies on our staff.  With the counselors’ help, the campers create an organic community that will last them a lifetime.

As a Rosh Aidah for the first time, I step into a new role this summer, inspiring and coordinating staff members in addition to campers. As I move up one step on the organizational hierarchy, I hope I can continue to channel the role of Bezalel on a different level: to help them come together to turn their respective relationships with individual campers and their cabin into one cohesive aidah – a taste of the mishkan in the Northwoods.

HaMirpeset Shelanu 279: From Ari Vandersluis

Posted on March 17, 2017

Please enjoy a d’var Torah this week from Rosh Halutzim 2017 (entering 6th grade) Ari Vandersluis. A camper for six summers, Ari was on staff for three summers as waterfront staff and cabin counselor. He is currently a junior at The Ohio State University, where he is studying Business Management on the pre-medicine track.

Reflections on Parashat Ki Tissa
by Ari Vandersluis

In this week’s parashah, Ki Tissa, we read about various large events in the lives of B’nai Yisrael (the People of Israel) leaving Egypt. This parashah includes the sin of the Golden Calf, Moses’s destruction of the tablets containing the Ten Commandments, and subsequently, HaShem’s (God’s) second delivery of the Ten Commandments to Moses. However, directly before these significant events occur we read about an equally important, yet far less discussed event, B’nai Yisrael’s first census. This seemingly insignificant occurrence actually serves as yet another declaration of community. By this point, B’nai Yisrael has already begun their travels through the desert and built a sanctuary for HaShem. Yet, HaShem feels that directly before they receive the Ten Commandments – the pinnacle of the nation’s spiritual journey – He must have an accurate count of the B’nai Yisrael, an almost administrative act to best signify their affirmation of a proud community.

This administrative act of HaShem brings a clear relevance to communities today. One of the first assessments of cities/towns/communities is a census, a very clear indication that the community can be viewed independently. However, with each census comes the question of who can be counted. In the Torah, directly following the commandment to perform a census, Moses is told to include all Israelites above the age of twenty and that each person should contribute a half-shekel, regardless of wealth. By saying this, HaShem clearly defines who it is that carries the responsibility of societal contribution and He shows that each of these people must be treated equally. By deciding who is counted and how they are treated, HaShem sets precedence for community culture.

Much like the Torah’s outline for who is counted in the census, at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, there is strong intention behind these community foundations. While B’nai Yisrael is counted at the age of twenty, at Camp Ramah your contribution to the community begins as soon as you begin your time as a chanich (camper,) as early as eight years old. From the moment a child or adult steps into the Camp Ramah atmosphere, he or she is valued and challenged intellectually and religiously. Regardless of age, campers find themselves contributing to the community and consistently helping to build a strong Jewish culture. Even in my first summer at Camp Ramah, in Halutzim, I can vividly remember the intellectual debates had within my tzrif (cabin), arguing about whether or not the lake could be used as a Mikveh (a bath in which certain ritual purifications can be performed) – it can! In each of the ten years I have spent at Camp Ramah, it has been clear that my opinion matters and that I am a significant piece of the larger community. At Camp Ramah, every chanich and tzevet (staff) member has a voice. Everyone contributes that half shekel.

Shabbat Shalom.

Meet Rosh Sport Dedi Bitton!

Posted on March 10, 2017

We are happy to introduce you to our new Rosh Sport Dedi Bitton!

Life outside camp:
I’m the owner and manager of a big sport center in Israel, Merkaz-Dor. Kids come here for after school activities and we have over 1200 kids coming to participate in our activities. (

Other camp experience:
I was a shaliach many years ago at Camp Ramah in Ojai and worked there as a basketball coach.

Most looking forward to:
I’m very excited and happy to be working at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin this summer! I’m looking forward to meeting all the campers and staff. I hope to bring new activities to the sports courts and fields and for the sport experience to be excellent for everyone.

Favorite sport to play? Favorite sport to watch?
That’s an easy question! I was a professional basketball player so I have to say the answer is basketball!!

I’m married to Rotem and we have 3 sweet kids: Dor, 8 years old, Daniel, 5 years old, and Nadav, 3 years old.

Favorite activity to do for fun:
I love to BBQ and I enjoy relaxing and spending time with my family at home!

HaMirpeset Shelanu 278: From Gal Atia

Posted on March 10, 2017

Please enjoy a d’var Torah this week from our Program Director Gal Atia. A longtime Ramahnik, Gal has held many roles at camp, including Rosh Mishlachat, Rosh Sport and staff trainer. Gal is from Neytanya, Israel, where he lives with his wife and children and works as a special education teacher.

Reflections on Parashat Tetzaveh
by Gal Atia

You might say that the theme of Parashat Tetzaveh is preparation.  We read God’s instructions to Moses regarding the seven-day inauguration of the Mishkan (the mobile sanctuary that will accompany the Israelites through the desert).  There are details regarding the lighting of the menorah and there is a lot of information given by God to Moses about preparing Aaron and his sons to do their holy work as priests.  It’s clear that the real work of sacrifices in the Mishkan can’t begin until the Kohanim (priests) are thoroughly prepared.

As I read the text, I was immediately reminded of what it takes for an Israeli to prepare to come to camp as a shaliach, a representative of Israel.  Over the last few years I have had the amazing opportunity to be directly involved in preparing our Mishlachat (Israeli staff) for camp.  You might not know that the process starts in November when interested young men and women go through a screening workshop.  This is followed by an interview with the camp director, a four-day training seminar and a visa interview.  All this comes before the 24-hour trek from Israel to the Northwoods of Wisconsin! Both Parashat Tetzaveh and my own personal experience tell me that the more time and energy you put into preparing to do a job, the more meaningful the work will be when you actually do it.

A second interesting item of note in this parashah is the fact that Moses’ name isn’t mentioned even once.  The parashah begins with God calling Moses “You,” and this is very uncommon in the Torah.  One commentator explains that God was furious with the Israelites after the sin of the golden calf which we read about next week (though the exact timeline of events in these chapters is quite murky) and wanted to punish them harshly.  In response Moses said to God, “If you punish them, erase my name from your book (ספרך/sefercha).”  This word can be looked at as  ספר-כ/sefer-chaf, which means “the 20th book.”  Parashat Tetzaveh is the 20th portion in the Torah and perhaps God took Moses’ name out to show us a true, humble leader who doesn’t care about his name being on the front page as long as his people are safe.

After Shabbat we move immediately into the joyous and raucous celebration of Purim, a day of unadulterated joy and goofiness that, amidst recent events in America and Israel, provides hope for a more carefree era and helps strengthen our ties to our heritage.  In a striking way this year, the story of Esther and Mordechai also does not contain the name of a figure we’d expect to feature prominently in the story – God.  The author’s self-awareness of this may be hinted at by the Hebrew root of אסתר/Esteir/Esther of ס.ת.ר/s.t.r meaning “hidden.”  According to a beautiful midrash in the Talmud, the Purim story, in which God is absent from the surface narrative, is the time when the Jewish people truly accept upon ourselves the responsibilities and obligations of our role in relationship to God and each other.

As we move inexorably towards the brightening sun, warming temperatures, and unabashed joy of the upcoming summer, let’s remember these two lessons:  preparation leads to success and the perception of God’s absence can empower us to achieve great things.

שבת שלום וחג פורים שמח

Shabbat shalom and chag purim sameach (Happy Purim!).


Meet Rosh Hinuch Bashetach (Head of Outdoor Education) Joel Dworkin!

Posted on March 3, 2017

We are happy to introduce you to our new Rosh Hinuch Bashetach Joel Dworkin! He may be new to the Ramah Wisconsin family, but he’s not new to Ramah!

Life outside camp:
I am working towards my B.A. in psychology at Roosevelt University in Chicago and consulting with other summer camps and addiction and mental health treatment centers on expedition programming.

Other camps and roles:
I was a madrich (counselor) and then Rosh Masa at Ramah in the Rockies for 5 years and Rakaz Trips at the JCC Ranch Camp in Colorado for 1 year.

Most looking forward to:
All of our chanichim (campers) spend at least one night camping out and for some of them, this is their only experience in the wilderness.  I’m excited for the first kid who asks “can we please stay out another night?”

Favorite camp meal?
Anything cooked on a camping stove.  And coffee. And Shabbat salmon.  And BBQ chicken.  And all the other camp food.

Other jobs you’d like to have at camp:
Honestly, I’m angling to be Operations Manager or Assistant Director next.

Favorite activity outside of camp:
Sea kayaking and backpacking

HaMirpeset Shelanu 277: From Joseph Eskin

Posted on March 3, 2017

Please enjoy a D’var Torah this week from Joseph Eskin, our 2016 Rosh Limudei Yahadut. Joseph was also Rosh Tikvah for three summers.  A lifetime Ramahnik, Joseph, a 2013 graduate of the University of Michigan, is currently studying at Yeshivat Hadar in the yearlong fellowship.  

Reflections on Parashat T’rumah
by Joseph Eskin

In this week’s parashah of T’rumah, we read the instructions for constructing the Mishkan, the sanctuary in which God’s presence will dwell among B’nei Yisrael (the Israelites) during their time in the desert. God’s directions to Moses are an incredibly detailed description of the creation of sacred space, and the individual features of the Mishkan are each fascinating in their own right. This week, though, as I read about the creation of sacred space, I could not help but think about the desecration of sacred space that the Jewish community has suffered from and that all Americans have borne witness to over the past two weeks: the vandalism of hundreds of gravestones at Jewish cemeteries in St. Louis and Philadelphia.

There is something particularly painful about an attack on a cemetery, which is often among the first institutions a Jewish community creates when it establishes itself, and which testifies to a community’s commitment to its history and its future in a specific place. Yet amid the fear and uncertainty raised by these attacks, a glimmer of hope shone through in efforts by American Muslims who, as of this writing, have raised over $130,000 to help the St. Louis Jewish community repair and rebuild its cemetery.

That act of generosity helped me find new resonance in the second verse of Exodus Chapter 25, in which God commands Moses, “Speak to B’nei Yisrael, and have them take an offering for me; You shall take my offering from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity (ידבנו לבו/yidvenu libo).” Rashi comments that the word yidvenu comes from the root word נדבה/nedavah, and understands this act of donation to the Mishkan as an act of goodwill. At the very beginning of the parashah, before specifying the exacting details of construction, God establishes that the emotional basis of the Mishkan will be kindness and altruism. The precise physical structure of the Mishkan is certainly important, but underlying all of it is the generosity and communal goodwill of the people. It is that feeling, as much as the architecture itself, which makes the sanctuary an appropriate dwelling place for God’s presence. Perhaps without that feeling, it would not be a sanctuary at all.

In the thirteen years that I have spent at Camp Ramah, it has become clearer and clearer to me that the same is true of the physical space and the experience that we build each summer. Campers create amazing and intricate projects each summer, from pieces of art and woodwork to musical theater productions and cabin cheers. Jokes, friendships, songs and memories become the material that our weeks together weave into beautiful tapestries.  But beneath the tangible products of a summer is a commitment by each person at camp to every other person at camp, a willingness to give openly and generously of themselves. It is that feeling which makes everything at camp possible, that same feeling which helps communities like those in St. Louis and Philadelphia, across political, ethnic, religious, and cultural divides, unite and rebuild in the face of tragedy.  That is exactly the same feeling which makes it possible for God’s presence to dwell among us.

Shabbat Shalom.

HaMirpeset Shelanu 276: From Josh Warshawsky

Posted on February 24, 2017

Please enjoy a D’var Torah this week from Josh Warshawsky, 2016 Rosh Shira/Tefillah and Artist in Residence. We are thrilled that Josh will be returning to camp this summer as Rosh Omaniyot Habamah (or Rosh Performing Arts).  Josh is currently in the Ziegler Rabbinical School in Los Angeles, studying in Israel this year. His second CD, “Mah Rabu,” features many of our favorite camp songs such as “Kol B’Ramah,” “Mah Rabu” and “V’ahavta.” You can check it out on iTunes or at

Reflections on Parashat Mishpatim
by Josh Warshawsky

In the 70th year of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, we’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on our last 70 seasons; the ways in which we’ve grown, the traditions we’ve created, and the ways in which we have failed and succeeded. Reflection is always bittersweet; it enables us to remember our favorite memories from the past, but at the same time we sometimes yearn for past experiences rather than looking ahead towards the future. In any event, milestones remind us that while the past has come and gone, the future is still unwritten.

Our great commentator, Rashi, emphasizes this point in this week’s parashah, Mishpatim. In Mishpatim we read a continuation of the laws God began to deliver last week with the Ten Commandments.  The parashah begins: וְאֵלֶּה, הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים, אֲשֶׁר תָּשִׂים, לִפְנֵיהֶם / v’eileh, hamishpatim, asher tasim lifneihem / “These are the laws that you shall set before them” (Exodus 21:1). How do we know that these laws are a continuation and not something entirely new? Instead of reading ְאֵלֶּה, הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים / eileh hamishpatim / “These are the laws,” The first words of the parashah read, וְאֵלֶּה, הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים / v’eileh hamishpatim /and these are the laws.” Rashi explains:

Wherever אֵלֶּה / eileh /  “These are,”  is used it cuts off the preceding section from that which it introduces; where, however, וְאֵלֶּה / v’eileh /  “and these,” is used it adds something to the former subject [i.e. forms a continuation of it]. So also here: “And these are the laws [i.e. these, also].” What is the case with the former commandments (The Ten Commandments)? They were given at Sinai! So these, too, were given at Sinai!

Further on in the parashah, we are told that, וַיִּכְתֹּב מֹשֶׁה, אֵת כָּל-דִּבְרֵי יְהוָה / vayichtov moshe, eit kol-divrei Adonai / “Moses then wrote down all of the commands of the Lord” (24:4).  Rashi explains that this verse means that Moses wrote down all of the laws that God had given to the people from the beginning of the Torah up to, but not including, the account of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.

Why is this important? Because Rashi admits here that even Moses, our greatest teacher, cannot predict the future. Moses cannot write down events that haven’t happened yet, but can only record the story up to that point.

When Moses reads to the people of Israel all that he has written down, they respond with the famous line: כֹּל אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר יְהוָה נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע / kol asher-diber Adonai na’aseh v’nishma / “all that the Lord has said we will do and we will hear!” (24:7). What does it mean to do and to hear, and why is it written in that order?  A second great medieval commentator, known as Rashbam, explains it thusly: “we will carry out what God has already said, and we are prepared to listen [obey] to what God will command from here on out.”  I’d suggest a different interpretation of this verse. These verbs are said together, and so should be acted out simultaneously. “We will do” means that we will write the future, living our lives and carrying on the legacy, while “we will listen” adds that we will do this as a continuation of the past and a manifestation of our present. We will remember our past experience. We will remember the rules. We will remember the stories. We will remember the songs. As we mark our 70th anniversary, I am hopeful for the future that we and our campers will write, making sure that we carry the legacy and values of our tradition with us as we build a better tomorrow.

Shabbat Shalom.


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