D’var Torah – Shoftim

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Cliff NerwenEmail, text messages, Facebook, blogs……keep a journal?  Write a Torah?

The first time that I was in Israel, not long after my Bar Mitzvah, I kept a daily journal of the trip; a personal, handwritten, daily recounting of the journey with excruciating day to day details.  Not electronic, not a blog, but it has survived the test of time, as I have read and reread that leather bound volume on numerous occasions since, especially in anticipation of any trip to Israel that I have taken in recent years.

In this week’s parshah, Parshat Shoftim, the people of Israel continue their preparations prior to entering the land of Israel.  After a forty year journey they are encamped on the east side of the Jordan River.  B’nai Israel, receives further instructions regarding the civil and religious authorities, and the judicial and military matters that will be of central importance to the people when they cross the Jordan and establish themselves as a nation.  They are told to choose a king after they enter the land.  Furthermore, one of the first tasks of this king, after the journey is complete, is for him to “write a copy of this Teaching, this Torah, for himself on a scroll.”

Why is the king himself, not his assistants or his scribes, commanded to take the time and write a copy of the Torah?  Perhaps, the act of actually writing it himself personalizes the experience.  We are told that this Torah is to remain with him and he is instructed to read it all the days of his life so that he will revere God and observe faithfully every word it contains; and thus presumably rule in a manner consistent with the precepts of the Torah.  The forty years in the desert have come to a conclusion and as the king and the people of Israel reach their destination and reflect upon their wandering journey it is the Torah that tells the story of the people and sets a roadmap for the establishment of this new nation.  In this context the Torah seems to be the ultimate travel journal!

The seventh and last Shabbat of the 2013 Ramah Berkshires season is upon us and in the next week children and staff alike will be returning home.  It has been an incredible summer here in Wingdale.  Meaningful connections and relationships have been established.  We have learned from each other; we have laughed, danced, sang, played sports, created art work, and prayed.  A mishpachah, a family has been nurtured.  As the Ramah community as a whole has been built, so too each individual has traveled his own journey.  Along the route since opening day new skills have been learned, challenges have been overcome, spiritual moments have been experienced, and life-long friendships have been made. Our seven week journey together is almost complete.  Along the way Torah, in its broadest meaning has been lived and created, both for the greater Ramah community and for each individual member of the kehillah.

Like the king of Israel at the conclusion of the journey through the desert, at the end of a Ramah summer we each recount and remember our own holy journey with the creation of our own Ramah Torah journals.   Our personal journals are the culmination of all that we have experienced as a community and as individuals.  The journey, this summer, is soon going to come to a conclusion, but the relationships and experiences live on in our collective memories, our Torah journals.  Ask your children to share those memories with you.  Ask them about the daily routine in their bunks, on the sports fields, in the dining room, during tefillah, bunk and edah activities, on al hagovah trips, on Shabbat and the other days of the week.  All of these activities, the routine and the extraordinary, are embedded with Hebrew, yehadut, a love of Israel and Jewish values; all together creating the complete Ramah experience.

The summer of 2013 is coming to a close, but the opportunity to learn from the experience of a Ramah summer and to live a life embedded with the richness of Torah is just beginning.  The Torah is both a recounting of our journeys past, and a roadmap for future paths not yet travelled.  Enjoy those next journeys with your children, and may the experiences of this summer at CampRamah in the Berkshires serve as your own personal Torah gps navigational device.

Shabbat Shalom.

Dr. Cliff Nerwen

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