Last week’s Torah portion VaEra and this week’s chapter Bo contain the stuff of legend and cinema. Though they, in their entirety, represent the Jewish people’s escape from slavery, the God that is portrayed is angry and vindictive. The evil that is inflicted upon the Egyptian people is difficult to stomach. However, if we zoom out and take the entire story as a metaphor, we have a dissertation on persistence in the face of adversity.
Moses and Aaron have a goal: Free their people from slavery. God says he will give them the skills to meet their goal. “I will make you like a God,” he tells them. But, almost in the same breath he tells them that they will meet with great resistance. “I will make Pharaoh obstinate,” he says. And, then, Moses and Aaron must confront Pharaoh no less than 10 times before they are successful.
In 1941, Whinston Churchill made a very famous speech at his boyhood school where he said, "never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty - never give in - except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."
Sometimes the enemy is outside of us: the boss who fires us, the job we can’t seem to obtain, the piece of writing no one wants to publish, the relationship that remains elusive. And, sometimes the enemy is within us: lack of confidence, fatigue, laziness and fear.
Proverbs tells us that a righteous person falls seven times and rises up again. According to Rabbi Kerry Olitzky, “Usually we think of the person who continues to fail as a being a failure. We may even exhibit pity, thinking that person is somehow “jinxed.” But that person, instead deserves our praise. It is easy to stumble and get back up. It is more difficult to do so time after time. We may not accomplish all that we want to do the first time, or the second, or the third, the challenge is to keep going."
Even though our own popular culture somehow makes success look easy, what we see portrayed in the media is not reality. Stephen King’s first book, the thriller Carrie, received 30 rejections, finally causing King to give up and throw it in the trash. His wife fished it out and encouraged him to resubmit it, and the rest is history, with King now having hundreds of books published and the distinction of being one of the best-selling authors of all time. Steven Spielberg was actually rejected from the University of Southern California School Film School three times. He eventually attended school at another location, only to drop out to become a director before finishing. Thirty-five years after starting his degree, Spielberg returned to school in 2002 to finally complete his work and earn his BA. And, sports legend Michael Jordan was actually cut from his high school basketball team.
It says in the Talmud that Perseverance prevails, even against Heaven. Yet, faith, according to Rabbi Bernard S. Raskas, gives us the substance of our values and ideals and sustains us with the belief that they will be realized.
Yes, we get smashed up, blown up, beaten up and burned up, says Rabbi Rami Shapiro, and we get up and get going again.
In Parshat Bo, line 12:31, Pharaoh, the obstacle to the goal, itself, says get moving, get out, go, go. We must continually persist in the face of adversity if what we want to achieve is our truest desire. For if what we long for is truly a thing of our heart and soul, then our stamina and tenacity will bring ultimate achievement. The outcome may not look exactly as we had envisioned, but success will prevail.
And, as it says in the last line of Bo – All this because God brought us out of Egypt with a show of strength.