The Power of New Beginnings: Parashat Bo and Human Trafficking Awareness

January 8, 2019Talia Kaplan

Throughout history, Jews have experienced the bitterness of slavery and the sweetness of freedom. Yet we often only think about slavery around Passover. However, more people are enslaved today than at any other point in history – more than 40 million.

Human trafficking is one form of slavery and can take the form of private labor exploitation, state-imposed labor, or sexual exploitation, to name a few examples. Human trafficking sadly exists unseen even in our own backyard; in the US, the National Human Trafficking hotline receives an average of 150 calls per day. In the face of this overwhelming problem, parashah Bo can inspire us to combat human trafficking by remembering the lessons of the Exodus throughout the year.

Before unleashing the tenth plague, God instructs Moses and Aaron, “This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you” (Exodus 12:2). Though Jews celebrate the new year during Rosh Hashanah, the first month on the Hebrew calendar is Nisan, the month of the Exodus. Rashi observed that the beginning of the Jewish month converges with the “time when the moon renews itself.” Many believe that sanctifying the new moon and keeping a calendar was first mitzvah given to the Israelites.

Why might sanctifying the new moon be so important for a soon-to-be-liberated people? New beginnings create opportunities for transformation. Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner, a 19th century Hasidic thinker, expounds on Exodus 12:2, “the power of the month will be for you, that you should be able to renew yourselves in words of Torah and in your actions” (Mei HaShiloach, Volume II, Exodus, Bo 2). For the Israelites, the beginning of the month of Nisan coincided with their physical liberation and the potential for spiritual and physical renewal. Each month, we too are given the gift of new beginnings.

The cyclical nature of the new moon can serve as a reminder of the potential for real liberation and renewal that always exists, not just during Passover or when we attend synagogue.

Margeaux Gray, a survivor of sex trafficking, speaks to the power of the moon’s presence, writing,

"During my enslavement, the moon was a constant in my life. Its light was a safe harbor in my darkness. It gave me hope. I would look at it and not feel alone.”

Given our own history, we are responsible for making this promise of renewal and liberation a reality for the tens of millions of enslaved people today. One way we can do this is acknowledge the ways in which human trafficking manifests and make small, but important, changes in our daily lives. For example, we can make intentional choices to buy products produced by a supply chain free of human slavery (read more through the Fair Food Program). We can learn more about human trafficking and educate our communities. The low profile of human trafficking in North America allows it to continue, but we can take steps to raise awareness. The following resources are great places to begin learning and get involved in the fight against human trafficking. 

Additional Resources

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