Don’t Give Up

Rabbi David Levin

Rabbi David Levin

Parshat Bo

Have you ever felt your good work did not matter? Bo teaches us, “Don’t give in. Instead, find a way to recharge and recommit yourself; you may see things differently.”

After several unsuccessful approaches to Pharaoh, Moses seems resigned that the last plagues won’t work either. But God said to Moses, “bo” to Pharaoh. Often translated as “go” to Pharaoh, “bo” actually means “come.” It is an urging and an invitation; come (with Me) to take another look at the situation — things have changed, even if you do not realize it. So come (with Me)*, and I will show you. Although Moses was skeptical, Pharaoh had been vanquished. So, God invites Moses to trust God and see the situation as it is.

When we do not see the changes we are working toward, we can lapse into gloominess; what is, will be, the wrong is unfixable. We do not see that the “needle has moved,” however slightly. Slow progress is different from no progress. Small gains, especially in complicated things, are an achievement from which we can take comfort. And they give us a chance to take a breath so we can recharge and re-engage in the work with renewed vigor.

For example, the civil rights we fight for should already be everyone’s. We are far from our ideal, but we have made progress. Civil rights have been expanding to include women, people of color and LGBTQ communities.

Although these gains are currently under assault, society has made progress. In recognizing our progress, we find validation in our good work so far and the ability to recommit ourselves to the ongoing effort to bring equal justice for all.

There is no shortage of such issues that require our long-term commitment. And despite sometimes feeling like Sisyphus, we remind ourselves of the words of Rabbi Tarfon in Pirkei Avot; even if we cannot finish the work, we cannot desist from it. And then we get back to it.

It is hard. And sometimes it seems that the only light we see in the dark tunnel is the headlight of the oncoming train. The slow forward progress makes it seem like our goals are unattainable. The lust for power and money drives many people rather than ideals such as equality, liberty and justice. The magnitude of the problem adds to our feeling of being overwhelmed and paralyzed from pushing forward. It is here is where the concept of God becomes critically important.

With an outstretched hand, God freed the Israelites, we are told. The enslaved people needed to move out of oppression and forge an identity. The Hebrews needed to see the possibility of something better and continue to move toward freedom and the Promised Land.

Setbacks tested their resolve along the way. The time in the wilderness is filled with stories of being tested to the limit, then recharged and refreshed so they can move forward. This also was true of their leader Moses and holds true for us, for we are partners in the ongoing work of creating and repairing our world.

We must rise to the challenge and continue the process of becoming something better. We have made progress but have a long way yet to go. But, like Moses and the Israelites, we cannot turn back or stop believing we can make a difference.

In those moments of doubt, we must be encouraged by our progress and recommit ourselves to the work that remains to be done. We can find that in our personal journey and by joining with brothers and sisters in bonds of fellowship, love and with the Creator.

Bo, come with me; let us go to the land I will show you.

*This insight is inspired by Yosef Bekhor Shor, a 12th-century scholar whose commentary on the Bible examined the text’s peshat, or simple meaning.

Rabbi David Levin manages Jewish Relationships Initiative, helping seekers of meaning through Jewish wisdom. Levin teaches nationally on such matters under Conversations for Life and Legacy. The Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia is proud to provide diverse perspectives on Torah commentary for the Jewish Exponent. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the Board of Rabbis.


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