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Torah Commentary
Sh'mot (January 5, 2013)
 
THE BURNING BUSH

 

Dr. Mark Weisstuch, Administrative Vice President

“There, there, up on the hill slope, you see it? A man crouched by the red bush, he’s been sitting there for hours. He looks like he’s talking to it.”

* * * * *

“I must turn aside to look at this marvelous sight.”
The Sages consider the turning:
did he just crane his neck
did he stop short,
did he take several steps back after first passing the radiant shrub
This is a moment of decision.
Ignore this spectacle and keep tending the sheep?
OR
Gaze with curious perplexity?
Moses does both — first he gazes — hypnotized by the spectacle of a burning object that is not consumed by the fire. He must have watched for some time to see the bush remain intact. After a time, he may have shaken off his trance-like frozenness and begun to move away. Then Moses says: “I must turn aside to look at this marvelous sight.”
Moses says this — to whom?
He makes a conscious decision. This event demands attention.
It’s a puzzle that cries out for answers:
“Why doesn’t the bush burn up?”

* * * * *

This is a mini-test.
Only after Moses made his decision to look did God speak to him.
God did not rouse him from his indifference to say, “Talk with me.”
Moses had to take the first step — literally — to move out of his safety zone.
He had to open himself to new possibilities, take the risk of departing from the shepherd’s well-trodden path.
According to one midrash, this burning bush was a well-known feature of the landscape. Like an old faithful geyser, it kept burning; the locals were inured to it. They saw a mere, humble glowing bush.
We see what we expect to see,
unless we force ourselves to see something different, something extra-ordinary.
New realities stretch the imagination because they are new and unprecedented.

* * * * *

Moses admittedly had some help. A flailing angel in the midst of the conflagration caught his attention.

* * * * *

The corporeality of the bush remained unchanged,
The fire burned without feeding on the material it embraced,
Fire and material coexisted
With the suspension of physical norms, we must assume other exceptions as well,
there was no smoke
there was no smell
there was no crackling sound
a smokeless, odorless, silent fire

* * * * *

The fire of the bush is ever-present, self-sustaining, inextinguishable.

The fire is God
Omnipresent and continuous
Sustaining and protecting the physical universe
Supporting and safeguarding the people of Israel
Pregnant with possibility; shrouded in mystery

The fire is Israel
Indestructible despite persecution and oppression

The fire is Moses…

* * * * *

The fire is described as “b’labat aish” — translated as “a flame of fire,” “a blazing fire.”
Rashi points out the root of “b’labat” is “lev” — “heart.”
This is not just a fire, any fire. It is a “heart of fire.”

The miraculous, non-consuming fire of the bush is an objective correlative.
It is a vision of Moses’ heart.

Revelation is the disclosure of hidden secrets,
a movement from inside outward.
Epiphany is the discovery of what lies in the dark closets of the soul,
a movement inside triggered by external occurrences.

Seeing the burning bush, Moses is looking into his own heart.
The fire of injustice and oppression blazes within,
he cannot escape his visceral opposition to the slavery in Egypt
by assuming the role of shepherd.
Despite his self-doubt and his sense of inadequacy,
he comes to recognize that he “must turn aside to look.”


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