D'vrei Torah by Rabbi Ellie Shemtov
A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step
As I write this 12-Step Torah, it is the evening of Wednesday January 20th, 2021-- inauguration day. In his inaugural address President Joe Biden noted how just a few days after violence sought to shake our Capitol’s very foundation, we have come together as one nation, under God, indivisible, to carry out the peaceful transfer of power. During this most challenging time in our country’s history, Inauguration Day is a day of hope and renewal; an opportunity to take a step towards healing our very battered country.
In this week’s Torah portion, Bo, after 430 years of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites are on the precipice of freedom. With the killing of the Egyptian first-born the Pharaoh more emphatically than ever, presses the Israelites to leave Egypt;
גַּם־צֹֽאנְכֶ֨ם גַּם־בְּקַרְכֶ֥ם קְח֛וּ כַּֽאֲשֶׁ֥ר דִּבַּרְתֶּ֖ם וָלֵ֑כוּ
Also take your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone. (Ex. 12:32)
Feeling newly empowered, the Israelites depart quickly—so quickly that:
וַיִּשָּׂ֥א הָעָ֛ם אֶת־בְּצֵק֖וֹ טֶ֣רֶם יֶחְמָ֑ץ
the people took their dough before it was leavened, (Ex. 12:34)
While the Israelites chose to leave Egypt, they could just as easily have decided to remain there. Better the devil you know than the God you don’t know. But after having witnessed numerous examples of God’s power, the Israelites elected to trust in God and take the first step towards freedom.
Trust is how we can move forward as a country. Rather than turn inward, President Biden is urging us to foster trust by standing in the other person’s shoes. When we are willing to do that it becomes easier to take that first step together. As the Israelites discovered and as President Biden understands, a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.