Jewish spaces have long been considered sanctuaries, not only referring to being centers of worship, but also as places of refuge from the outside world. In this week’s Torah portion, Matot-Massei (Numbers 30:2-36:3), we understand why; God designated six cities as places where those who have made mistakes were able to be free from retaliation and find peace.
While they aren’t fleeing from mistakes they’ve made in the traditional sense, our Mitzvah Corps programs, from New Orleans to Israel, from Ecuador to Seattle to New Jersey, also serve as sanctuaries for our participants. Amid the chaos of the outside world, they create communities of like-minded peers, free from pressures and negativity, from the inundation of ideals that don’t resonate.
Yet these Mitzvah Corps communities don’t find their strength by simply allowing space for participants to find peace and quiet; these places of refuge require more. They may be safe, but they’re safe to explore one’s self and the complexities of social justice issues. They may be Jewish, but they challenge teens to discover what Judaism means to them and how it propels them to action. They may be free from the confusion of cable news, but they force participants to understand multiple narratives and perspectives.
This Shabbat, we rest, but we do so with the intention to give ourselves the energy to fight, learn, and grow even more in the week to come.