Insightful Tefillah Tidbits from Rabbi Gordon Tucker!

We were honored to have Rabbi Gordon Tucker with us for the first two weeks of Machzor Sheinei (Second Session).

Rabbi Tucker is a leading scholar of Conservative Judaism, and he’s been an influential teacher and educator at Camp Ramah New England all the way back to 1987.  As vice chancellor for Religious Life and Engagement at The Jewish Theological Seminary, Rabbi Tucker focuses on enhancing Jewish life at JTS.

While he was here at camp, Rabbi Tucker had many moments to teach and connect with our chanichim/ot (campers) and tzevet (staff).  Not only is Rabbi Tucker spectacularly knowledgeable about Conservative Judaism, but he is a magical teacher who is able to connect with and inspire kids, young adults, and adults alike.  It’s a joy seeing kids of all ages flock to Rabbi Tucker, eager to spend time with him and learn from him.  It was a true pleasure and blessing to have him with us here at camp.

Thankfully, Rabbi Tucker did not stop teaching and inspiring us after he left camp!  Rabbi Tucker started making daily posts in our tzevet WhatsApp group.  Each post was a short “Rega Shel Tefillah” — a moment of Tefillah.  In just a few sentences, Rabbi Tucker would present a fascinating and insightful teaching, one designed both to educate and illuminate our tzevet, and also to be something they could pass on to their chanichim/ot and also apply to their work at camp (especially for those madrichim/ot involved in running the tefillot for their edah/age group).

Here’s a posting in which Rabbi Tucker explains the structure to our morning tefillot:

  • A recurring pattern in many of our prayers is this three part sequence: (1) Creation of the World, (2) The Gift of Torah (Revelation), and (3) Future Redemption. The Berakhot surrounding the Shema are not random — they follow exactly this pattern. “Yotzer Or” is about the creation of light (the first thing created). “Ahavah Rabbah” is about God’s loving gift of the Torah. And “Ga’al Yisrael” is about God as the redeemer of Israel. This may help explain the logic behind these berakhot. We can explore similar patterns in future postings. Good davening to all!

Here’s a posting about the Modeh Ani prayer, and the importance of gratitude (an important theme here at camp):

  • What you find at the beginning of morning prayers in every Siddur — and in the tefillot at Camp Ramah — is the simple two-liner “Modeh Ani”. Like many of the early morning tefillot, this one was primarily intended to be said at home, right upon awakening to the new day, but was also added by some to the liturgy in the synagogue. “Modeh Ani” was traditionally the very first prayer taught to a young child beginning to speak and learn. But it is hardly a young child’s prayer. “Modeh” (related of course to the well known word “Todah”) usually is translated as “give thanks”, and that is correct; yet “thanks” is only its derivative meaning. The primary meaning of “Modeh”, “Todah”, and even “Vidui” is “acknowledge.” When we acknowledge our mistakes, we are confessing (“Vidui”), and when we acknowledge a gift, we say “Todah.” So each day is meant to begin with an acknowledgment of the gift of life and that we have not created ourselves. (In fact, what a person is asked to say as his/her last day approaches, at the end of life, begins with the words “Modeh Ani Lefanekha.” Note the profound symmetry: life is meant to begin and end — and each day of that life is meant to begin — with gratitude. So this is really a follow-up to Rabbi Gelb’s important teaching on Friday — the centrality of gratitude to the Jewish way, and how we will live better if we train ourselves to acknowledge all the gifts we receive.

And here’s a fascinating posting in which Rabbi Tucker suggests that perhaps we’re doing things wrong when we close the Sefer Torah while someone is reciting the berachot before reading an Aliyah:

  • Tomorrow is a Torah reading day, and this is something I offer with no judgment whatsoever, because it is about a practice that is very very common. Still, it is good to know that it is incorrect, and what the correct practice is. When one is called to the Torah, the scroll is opened, the reader locates the place to start, and then…..what? Well, the overwhelmingly common practice is for the person with the aliyah to roll up the scroll, say the first Berakhah, and then open the scroll again. But that often results in the reader looking all over again for the place at which to begin, which is an imposition on the patience of the congregation. The Talmud already dealt with this (it’s in Tractate Megillah 32a), and concluded — in agreement with Rabbi Yehudah — that the scroll should remain open for the first Berakhah, so that the reader does not lose the place in the meantime, and need to look for it again. When the reading is concluded, then the scroll is indeed rolled up before the second Berakhah is recited. This is also codified as the correct practice by Maimonides (Rambam) and by the Shulhan Arukh (Orah Hayyim 139:4). Please try to institute this correct practice.

If you’re interested, you can click here to access a full archive (growing daily) of Rabbi Tucker’s daily teachings!

Rabbi Tucker was a guest on our Ten for ROO podcast in the spring.  Click here to listen to this fantastic episode!  Rabbi Tucker talks about how he connects young people to Judaism; and he shares his thoughts on how supporters of Israel should respond to current events in Israel. We also talk about Rabbi Tucker’s love of biking and running, his favorite spots at camp, his favorite foods at camp, and some of the great camp characters he’s met along the way.

And if you’re wondering why Rabbi Tucker is holding a spark plug in the photo at the top of this page… it’s because of his famous d’var Torah, connecting the experience of Moshe at Har Nevo with a spark plug!  (Click here to read all about that.)

Categories: Director, Hinuch, Limud, Tefillot