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Flattening the mountain

Friday, 15 January, 2016 - 12:26 pm

Overcoming challenges.jpg

As we discuss the slavery in Egypt and the subsequent Exodus, there is an important detail to keep in mind: This is talking about us too. It’s not only a story about what happened so many years ago; it’s a story that we each experience - every single day.

(And in case you’re wondering why I’m mentioning the Exodus in the winter - no, Passover wasn’t rescheduled, don’t worry. We’re simply studying the Exodus in the weekly Torah portion study cycle.)

In fact the very first words in this week’s Torah portion are so powerful and relevant that instead of discussing what could be learned from the final plagues, the Passover lamb or the Exodus itself, I simply must share with you this thought about the first words of the Torah portion.

Here’s the scene: the Jewish people have been suffering under harsh conditions and brutal slavery for many years. Suddenly Moses returns to Egypt and begins to unleash plagues against the Egyptians and eventually leads the Jewish people into freedom.

Moses sounds fearless - he confronted Pharaoh, the mighty and intimidating Egyptian dictator, and soundly defeated him. Yet, with one subtle word, we’re given insight into Moses’ state of mind and the true source of his fearlessness and strength.

Bo - G-d says to Moses, Come. Bo el Paro - Come to Pharaoh. Come? Shouldn’t it say lech - Go? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to say Lech el Paro - “Go to Pharaoh”? And perhaps even more elementary, why the need to go to Pharaoh at all? Couldn’t Moses have simply led the Jews out of Egypt without ever directly confronting Pharaoh? Moses could have simply led the Jewish people out of Egypt and Pharaoh would have been powerless to stop them. Why the need to go and confront him?

There are many explanations that satisfy the original story and the details that are relevant to it. But I’d like to share with you a personal lesson, one that is directly relevant to each of us every day. You see, Pharaoh and Egypt in our lives are the challenges that we face when trying to accomplish our goals in life. Whenever we attempt to accomplish good, when we make a goal and begin working towards it, we inevitably face difficulty and challenge. When we attempt to effect change in others and in our environment, even more so.

These challenges can be debilitating and many, often more talented, people have tried and been unsuccessful. How can I overcome the challenges that I face?

The answer lies in the first words of this week’s Torah portion, “Bo el Paro” - “Come to Pharaoh”. The very first step to overcoming our challenges is confronting them. When we face difficulty, whether due to our personality and temperament or due to external circumstances, we often tend to try to avoid it. We try to make it work without confronting our limitations.

The Exodus narrative reminds us that in order to successfully overcome our challenges we need to confront them head on. We need to clearly and objectively survey the reality ahead of us and directly confront the limiting factors that lay ahead.

That can be daunting or even overwhelming. It can be done, but not alone.

We need to remember that in order to overcome the difficulties we often need to rely on a Higher Power, Hashem needs to be part of the equation. When we deal with things alone, we’re limited by the physical reality and in that world we have real limitations. But when we realize that we are not facing these challenges alone; “Bo el Paro” - “Come to Pharaoh,” Hashem is accompanying us to face our challenges - then we can succeed.

From our vantage point, difficulty looms large and can hold us back; from Hashem’s vantage point, nothing is a real obstacle and everything is able to be overcome.

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