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Parashat Yitro (Exodus 18:1-20:23)

“Now, then, if you will obey me faithfully and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all the peoples.” (Exodus 19:5)

Morton L. Mandel, a past president of JCC Association, and funder of its two centers of excellence, begins each of the Mandel Foundation Joint Advisory Team meetings by reading out loud and discussing the organization’s mission statement.  It is a simple and effective technique for reminding the assembled body of its purpose and for keeping the institution “on task.”

Parashat Yitro (named for Moses’ father-in-law, Yitro, a Midianite priest) is best known for the revelation of the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai.  Just before that happens, though, God speaks to Moses and charges him to instruct the Israelites to become “mamlechet kohanim v’goy kadosh” (a nation of priests and a holy nation; Exodus 19:6).  God is articulating the Jewish people’s mission statement.  It is wonderfully concise and powerful.  It is also woefully vague, offering no clue what a holy nation is, how to become one, and to know if you did.  That’s because it is a mission, not a strategy.   

That’s where the Ten Commandments come in.  (In Hebrew, commandment is mitzvah. The Torah refers to the Ten Commandments, though, as d’varim, or dibrot, utterances.  Aseret hadibrot (the ten words) became, in Greek, deka logoi, which translated into English is Decalogue.)  Having just given the Jewish people a mission, God now offers a strategy.  Follow these ten principles, and you will be on your way to being “mamlechet kohanim v’goy kadosh.” 

Imagine if every Jewish organization began its meetings by reading Exodus 19:6 and discussing it.  It certainly couldn’t hurt.

Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom,


Dr. David Ackerman is the Director of JCC Association’s Mandel Center for Jewish Education.

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