We hear it from the world of politics: “One campaigns in poetry, but governs in prose.” We are now at the beginning of the long, winding, prosaic section of the Torah. Just a few weeks ago we recounted, with baited breath, the once-in-human-history moments of exodus, splitting of the sea, and God’s revelation. Now the final three-and-a-half books of the Torah begin, filled mostly with the minutiae of legal codes and architectural details, to be followed by the challenging episodes of everyday life during forty years in the desert.

But prose has its power as well. The founders of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, in fact, understood and appreciated the power of prose. Because the camp they envisioned – the one from which we continue to benefit today, the one that is poetry to so many of us – is a place dedicated to the transformative power of the mundane and everyday.

It is no historical accident that Ramah was founded between the two most powerful Jewish moments of the 20th century, the closest thing we have to once-in-human-history impact. In the wake of the Holocaust, and with the founding of the State of Israel just around the corner, Ramah’s founders saw themselves, in 1946 and 1947, lacking a place where the prosaic power of everyday Judaism could reach a new generation of Jews. The ashes of the shtetls and the great Jewish cultural centers of Europe were still smoldering; the promise of a fully realized Jewish civilization in our ancestral homeland still an unrealized dream. They understood that what American Judaism needed was a secluded bubble in which Judaism as a way of life could be cultivated. That cultivation, they hoped, would lead to shaping a new generation’s outlook, like the power of a mighty stream cuts its way through stone.

In this week’s Torah reading, parashat Tetzaveh, God concludes the instructions for building the mishkan, the portable tabernacle that accompanied the Israelites through the desert. For two weeks we read the instructions and then, after a brief break, we spend another two portions actually building the mishkan itself. The details can be drearily dull and the mishkan itself represents constancy and a shift from the God of the plagues, the Red Sea, and the Ten Commandments, to a God who will be by us, at once less dramatically and more importantly, day in and day out.

As Rabbi Shai Held called to my attention to this week, sharing the insight of Bible scholar Victor Hamilton, the construction of the mishkan does more than merely represent the shift from epic moments to the everyday mundane. For the construction of the mishkan and, specifically, the number and type of individuals allowed into each of its cordoned off areas, exactly parallels the geography of Mount Sinai and its levels of increasing selectivity. At the base of Mount Sinai stood the entire Israelite nation, as all Jews are welcome into the forecourt of the Tabernacle to bring sacrifices. Farther up Sinai was a different level, reserved for Moses and his inner circle, including Aaron and his sons, the first priests; the Holy Place (הקדש, hakodesh) of the Tabernacle is the provenance of only the Priests. Finally, the top of Mount Sinai was where Moses and Moses alone communicated with God; the center of the mishkan is the Holy of Holies (קדש הקדשים, kodesh hakodashim) where only the High Priest may enter.

This connection of poetry (Revelation) to prose (daily worship) is what we achieve every summer at Ramah. We take our heritage that, for many of us, struggles to impact us significantly more than a few times per year during our daily lives in America, and transform it into a holistic setting that cannot help but impact us multiple times a day. The poetry and prose of Judaism are, indeed, one and the same; it is the opportunity that being in the nurturing cocoon of camp provides which amplifies its power.

Once the Israelites leave the foot of Mount Sinai, the Torah’s message for its final three-and-a-half books is quite clear: this religion is not only for the breathtaking moments in human history, it is a religion of the nitty-gritty and the day-to-day. It is a religion that governs minor architectural details, audaciously legislates to ex-slaves about how they will one day treat their slaves, and ingratiates itself into our lives multiple times a day, every moment we eat, and has something to say about every interaction with other human beings we may ever have. At Ramah we fuel this grand Biblical vision of Judaism (enhanced and filled-in by the Rabbis) and reap the rewards of the impact it has on our lives.

Shabbat Shalom