“And as the voice of the shofar grew stronger;
Moses spoke and God’s voice answered.” (Exodus 19:19)
Parashat Yitro is the moment we’ve all been waiting for. The Israelites are gathered around Mt. Sinai, preparing for God’s revelation, the climax of the Torah and the central event in Jewish history. But then a funny thing happens: after God pronounces the Ten Commandments the Israelites shy away. Upon hearing God’s word “up close and personal,” they tell Moses, “You talk to us and we’ll listen, but don’t have God talk with us, lest we die.” (Exodus 20:16) Just when God says, “Be mine,” the Israelites say, “Back off.”
It is easy to imagine the Israelite’s fear of God’s power. But it is more helpful to think about their confusion. In a very short period, their world has changed completely. And now God asks them to do things they’ve never done before, without any reasons attached. So they turn to Moses and ask him to speak to them in words they understand so they can make sense of this new reality. This is the moment when Moses becomes “Moshe Rabeinu,“ Moses, our teacher, not because he teaches, but because he helps the Israelites learn.
This is a pretty good description of what JCCs do today: design programs that take big Jewish ideas, principles, practices, and values, and present them to the community in language it can understand. In language that allows each individual to create personal meaning. Seen this way, JCCs are Moses’ heirs, offering a “safe haven” to the Jewish community so that rather than dying, it can continue to go from strength to strength.