Parsha Bo 5784 — Crying out for a caring world

Jeffrey Levine
7 min readJan 17, 2024

Summary

At the beginning of the Parsha, it is said that God brought the ten plagues as signs to show that He is God.

The question is whether these plagues were meant for Pharaoh or the Jewish people to recognize an active God in the world.

The events of 7th October is a “biblical event” calling us to recognise God (or the hiding of God) in this in this world.

The events of October 7th are beyond human comprehension and tragic but served as a galvanizing cause and a wake-up call for the Jewish people. The question is asked — who they we crying out to and if it is to God? The silver lining of the event and the aftermath is the unity and prayers, the revealing of evil in the world and the purpose of the Jewish people. It emphasizes the need to establish the country’s purposes and what is worth defending. An important distinction between Western society and Jewish society in Israel highlights the caring nature of the latter. Individual responsibility and accountability in Judaism are contrasted with the self-interest focus of Western society. We see that everyone, Jews in Israel and around the world, is united in crying out for a better world where evil is eliminated and truth shines, embracing God and a good society that cares for others.

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At the beginning of the parsha, it says that God will bring these plagues as signs and you will know that He is the Lord. And the question is asked — is this addressed to Pharaoh or to Jewish people, i.e. were the ten plagues brought to show Pharaoh (the world) or the Jewish people that there is an active God in the world?

Fast forward to the 7th of October and there was an event here and we have to ask ourselves, was this bring our a Tikkun (repair) in Israel and the Jews or the world?

Judging by the reaction and world attention, there is an awakening and revelation of evil. Just as in Exodus story our suffering increased, In the continued aftermaths of October 7th there is much suffering, soul searching and darkness.

The events of the 7th of October was tragic but it has been a galvanizing cause and a wake-up call for the Jewish people and a cry out, just like the Jews in Egypt cried out, we cried out.

The question is, who are we crying out to and are we crying out to God and or not? Before the 7th of October, and in Egypt Slavery, they cried out because of their sorrows and their troubles and their hard work and their suffering. Only afterwards, they cried out to God and there was a progression from just crying out to recognizing that there is God.

And if you’re looking for the silver lining of the 7th of October, obviously you can say there’s a unity and there’s a lot of prayers and there’s a crying out to God and there’s a sort of revelation of this evil in this world and revelation of our purpose to the people. So it’s focusing on our purpose and I wrote extensively about looking for the soul of Israel and there are a lot of books and talks that came out on the 75th anniversary of the state which asks what is our future direction and you can see the people were crying out, crying out for democracy, crying out maybe for a false God, I don’t know.

But there was a big crying out in this country and then the 7th of October came and said let’s get our priorities right, let’s know what we’re going to cry out for.

And let’s establish what are the purposes of this country and what’s worth defending for, what are we fighting for?

In this regard, we have to distinguish between Western society and what’s considered a Jewish society in Israel, which as we can see is a caring society.

I want to share some words of an essay that Rabbi Benjamin Lau wrote in a book called Radical Responsibility. A book celebrating one of the greatest Jewish scholars of our time, Radical Responsibility brings together thirteen luminaries of Jewish and Western thought to explore the intellectual legacy of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

Rav Lau writes about the responsibility of the community and the individual. I want to paraphrase what he wrote,

“The liberal character of contemporary Western society radically endorses a conscious view of human rights and generally emphasises the exclusivity which makes it possible for the individual to ignore the other. This social framework is instrumental and designed for the furtherance of personal interest. If there’s no advantage for the individual within the social framework, he will endeavour to ignore it. He further writes it is almost unnecessary to note that traditional Jewish thought when Torah was opposed to such alienation, attempts to make the individual accountable to the face of the other. Alongside this social obligation, the Torah aims at the empowerment of the individual and his or her responsibility.”

And this is the difference. Judaism recognises the other and enables this responsibility. And it’s the individual responsibility especially our holy soldiers who have risen to this challenge. We’ve seen this in the struggles of the aftermath of October 7th. And we’re all in this together. And not only the Jews in Israel but the Jews all around the world are feeling this and we’re all one big family. And we’re all crying out. We’re crying out for a better world. We’re crying out for a world where evil will be eliminated and where truth will shine and we can all embrace God and the concept of a good society caring for the other.

Indeed, in Rabbi Sacks’s book “To Heal a Fractured World”, Rabbi Sacks leads us in a Jewish conception which follows faithfully in the footsteps of Abraham and illuminates our world by emphasizing the importance of social responsibility.

And using the example of the Abrahamic Accords, may this suffering bring out a universal goodness and a Good Society.

Further extracts from Rabbi Binyamin Lau

“The king of Egypt died, and the children of Israel sighed from their work and they cried, and their cry arose to God from the servitude’ (Exodus 2:23).

The people cry out because the situation has become desperate. The death of Pharaoh has changed nothing in the situation of the slaves. That drains hope. The cry comes forth but it lacks an address. God hears the cry of the rootless slaves, even if it is not directed to Him.

The cry, the opening stage of the redemption from Egypt, is also mentioned in the continuation of the biblical story, at the burning bush, when God charges Moses to take Israel out of slavery: ‘And God said: I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and I have heard their cry because of their oppressors, for I know their pain’ (Exo- dus 3:7). God’s description is formulated precisely. Israel’s cry was not directed to Him. It was a cry which arose from a broken heart. It did not reflect the spiritual condition of the people but rather the depth of their pain. However, when succeeding generations arrive in the land of Israel and bring an offering of first fruits from the produce of their land, they tell the story of the cry in a religious vein: ‘And the Egyptians enslaved us and they afflicted us and they put hard labour upon us, and we cried out to the Lord God of our fathers; and God heard our voice and saw our affliction and our toil and our oppression’ (Deuteronomy 26:6–7).”

The obligation of individual responsibility in overcoming crisis

“Up to this point we have focused on the need to educate towards individual responsibility. We must now clarify the second issue — individual responsibility in overcoming crisis. In the first section of this article, I dealt with the obligation of the community to hear the cry of the poor. I now seek to show that the person who cries out is obliged to take an active part in releasing him or herself from crisis.

My first example comes from the Bible, in its description of Israel at the Exodus. We noted earlier the cry of the slaves at a moment of extreme stress. Their cry was directed not to God or to anybody in particular, but to the universe in general. Just before the Exodus itself, God tells Moses to say to the Children of Israel: ‘Take [mishkhu] or buy [kehu] for yourselves from the flock for your families, and slaughter the Passover offering’ (Exodus 12:21). The rabbinic exegesis of this verse is: ‘Withdraw [mishkhu] your hands from idolatry, and put your hands [kehu] to fulfilling God’s command. This interpretation focuses on the two successive verbs in the biblical verse, mishkhu and kehu. It reads mishkhu as denoting releasing from one’s grasp, and kehu as meaning gathering in to oneself. In relation to our theme, we might suggest that the first step on the journey from slavery to freedom is to let go of illusory possessions and to adopt an authentic and stable set of values. The ‘idolatry’ that the Israelites were commanded to abandon when they left Egypt was Egyptian culture, which had overwhelmed them. Now, Moses commands the people to offload its alien baggage and to foster self-identity.”

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Jeffrey Levine

Jeffrey Levine provides CFO, Director, ESG Advisory Services through www.persofi.com and is a promoter of ideas and trends where Innovation meets ESG