Bo: The Need for Impossible Action
It’s likely that you’ll feel the energy of this week’s portion show up in your own life. Bo is when the Israelites leave Egypt — and their lives of slavery — behind. It’s a moment of liberation that calls you to ask yourself what you need to leave behind. So consider — what are you getting out of? What are you escaping, or what do you need to escape? Like Moses, you too can conquer negativity, which in this portion is represented by the evil Pharaoh.
After the seven plagues came the three plagues, then the Israelites finally escaped. One question we may ask ourselves while reading this portion is why Moses was sent by G-d to reason with someone who was clearly so unreasonable. There was no way that the Pharaoh was going to surrender to his demands, so it’s strange that G-d even asked him to deal with such an impossible person. Why wasn’t this a demotivating experience for Moses?
To understand why G-d did this, we should consider another story. It’s the story of a man who begged for G-d’s help. God heard his prayers and promised to help him if he pushed a rock outside his house each day. To begin with, the man did exactly as he was told: he went outside each day and spent his valuable time and energy pushing the rock. It never moved. In fact, nothing happened at all. Disheartened, he let his efforts gradually decrease.
In time, he stopped pushing the rock and instead touched it several times a day. When there were still no obvious results, he gave up the mission entirely. This is when G-d visited the man and asked him why he didn’t do as he was told. “It wouldn’t move,” he protested, defending his decision. “I couldn’t move it!”
G-d said “I didn’t ask you to move it. I asked you to push it.”
Our actions are not defined by their results. Doing good is doing good even if it doesn’t get the results you hoped for.
This portion invites us to emulate the spirit of Moses and attempt our own impossible tasks when that is the right thing to do. Think about the person you know who is furthest from the light of the Creator. Think about the person in your social circle that is the most stubborn, that refuses to listen to advice. This is someone you should try to help! And if they don’t change? No problem. G-d made them that way to help YOU grow, not them. There are no accidents in our design.
When the command to visit the Pharaoh is given, its expression is interesting. What’s said is not “go to the Pharaoh,” as we’d expect, but “come to the Pharaoh.” That’s strange. Isn’t the verb “come” used when someone visits us? This is no accident. It reminds us that the Pharaoh is not separate from ourselves: he represents the evil inclination that exists within us all. When we approach him, we are in fact coming back to our true selves. This is a necessary spiritual journey.
It’s necessary because we must reflect on our own evil inclination with honesty and courage. Remember, there are no accidents in our design! G-d made us this way for a reason. We cannot kill the evil inclination; however, we can transform it. That is within our power. We can turn it into our G-d-given gift. Are you an angry person? Turn that anger into passion! Use it in your practice! Are you an addict? Turn this addiction into a loving devotion to doing right.
We must not hate ourselves for the traits that G-d gave us. G-d made both good and bad because we had to choose for good to have meaning. If we do not choose good of our own free volition, the good action means nothing. For example, G-d told Moses that the rich Israelites should be willing to help the poor ones. But they had to make that choice for themselves for it to matter. We too have a choice: to surrender to our evil inclination or to transform it. Transforming it takes work, but it’s the most important spiritual work we can do.
G-d sees this work and helps you change. That’s right — you do not change yourself, nor should you claim to have changed yourself: when you do, that is ego talking. Instead, you must diligently strive to do good. Change is when G-d recognizes and rewards these efforts; however, we do not do the work just to see the results. After all, spiritual results don’t always manifest in this physical realm. Results are not the point of doing good. All we can do is beg G-d to let us push the rock. This is the true spirit of Moses.