Friday, January 17, 2020 /20 Tevet, 5780
Parashat Sh’mot Exodus 1:1-6:1
Moses was tending to the flock of his father in law, as he had many times before. Before him there was a bush on fire. The Torah tells us that an angel of God appeared to Moses in a blazing fire out of a bush. Moses gazed at this bush which despite being aflame, was unconsumed. Moses said, “I must turn aside to look at this glorious sight. Why isn’t the bush burning up?” When God saw that Moses had turned to look, God called to him out of the burning bush and said, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses answered, “I am here.” God said, “Do not come closer! Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground!”
Jewish scholars contemplate why God appeared to Moses in a burning bush. The first century philosopher, Philo, believed that the burning bush was a symbol for the Jewish people, and the fire represented the Egyptians. Despite the burning flames of injustice, the burning bush remained unconsumed, emblematic of the resilient Israelite people who would one day overcome their oppression.
Robert Alter, a modern Biblical scholar points out the similarly between the word bush in Hebrew (seneh) and the word Sinai. He suggests that the burning bush is a precursor to revelation. Just as Moses now received the word of God from a bush, so too would he one day receive the Torah at Mt Sinai.
Perhaps even more important than these two significant connections is the ubiquitous nature of bushes in themselves. I believe this may be the most important reason for this symbol. In the wilderness of Midian, brush fires were a common occurrence. They were a dime a dozen. Moses could have easily walked past the burning bush, thinking nothing of it. Instead, Moses took the time to notice the miracle before him. This was no ordinary brush fire.
The burning bush was the beginning of a sacred partnership between Moses and God. As the Torah teaches in its final verses, “Never again would there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses, who the Eternal singled out…” (Exodus 24:10) Moses was the single greatest prophet. And their partnership could have never been if Moses didn’t take the time and have the frame of mind to pay attention.
Moses chose to see the miracle before him, and that made all the difference. Albert Einstein once taught, “There are two ways to live – you can live as if nothing is a miracle, or you can live as if everything is a miracle.”
The is a story about a pagan who once asked a rabbi, “Why did God choose a bush from which to appear?” The rabbi answered, “To teach you that no place is devoid of God’s presence, not even a lowly bush.” (Exodus Rabbah 2:5)
This Shabbat, may we all take the time to find the miracles around us. Perhaps in the most ubiquitous of objects we too will hear God’s calling.
Rabbi Cassi Kail