Shabbat Shalom Weekly

Torah Portion:  Shemot

Tevet 21    (Exodus 1:1 – 6:1)

Appel’s Parsha Page

Moses at the Burning Bush
by Rabbi Yehuda Appel
In her novel, “Briefing for a Descent into Hell,” Dorris Lessing makes the point that perception is largely dependent on what we expect to perceive. A character in her novel observes that whole armies of angels could fly past a person, but if that person were not expecting such a phenomenon, it would likely go unnoticed.
The Torah commentators make this same point by asking why the Bible, in introducing us to Abraham, is seemingly silent about his virtues. Why aren’t we told what made Abraham worthy to have a close relationship with the Almighty?
The answer is that the Torah is actually telling us about Abraham’s greatness just by the mere fact that Abraham heard the Almighty’s call. While God talks to many, only Abraham was able to perceive His words.
One of the most remarkable “perceptions” of all-time appears in this week’s Torah portion, Shmot. In the Parsha, Moses is shepherding his father-in-law’s sheep in the middle of the desert. Suddenly, Moses spots an extraordinary phenomenon: a bush is burning, yet is not consumed. Curious to know what is going on, he turns towards the Bush and … suddenly a voice is heard. God speaks to Moses and charges him with the responsibility of saving the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt.
There is much discussion amongst the Torah commentators as to why the Almighty would choose the vision of a Burning Bush to initiate His contact with Moses.  Rashi sees the Burning Bush as a symbol of God’s sheltering presence during times when the Jews will go through “burning difficulties.” Just as the Bush is sustained because the Almighty supports its existence, so too will the Almighty support the Jewish people’s survival in their time of need.
Rabbenu Bechaya offers two additional interpretations. He quotes a Midrash that notes the Hebrew word for bush (“Sneh”) is similar in spelling to the Hebrew word “Sinai.” This Midrash sees the Burning Bush, then, as a symbol of the fire which will burn atop Mount Sinai during the giving of the Ten Commandments.
On another level, Rabbenu Bechaya suggests that the image of the Burning Bush is a paradigm for all physical reality. Since the physical world is a product of Godly, spiritual creation, it is logical to assume that the physical universe should be consumed by the overwhelmingly powerful spiritual flow emanating from God. The continued existence of the entire physical universe, therefore, is very much like the continued existence of this Burning Bush. Through the symbolism of the Bush, the Almighty gave His reassurance to sustain the world.
Perhaps the most striking observation is made by the Sforno. He says that at the Bush, Moses was receiving a lesser level of prophecy than he would receive in later years. Jewish thought maintains that there was a crucial, substantive difference between Moses’ and all other prophets’ prophecies. While all other prophets received God’s messages in the form of images that had to be subsequently interpreted, Moses heard God’s word directly without the need for intermediary images. The Burning Bush, however, is the one exception to this rule, and suggests that Moses’ spiritual perceptions still were in need of development.
The Tosafot Daa’t Zekanim also note that a bush cannot be used for idol worship and thus Moses was hearing God’s will from a medium that would be free of all spiritual pollution.
Other Midrashim see the Bush as a sign of humility, signaling to Moses that God dwells with the truly humble.
Just as the Burning Bush is a symbol of lowliness, but pregnant with possibilities beyond the natural order, so, too, would Moses’ later prophecies go beyond what he could spiritually perceive at the present moment … taking him to heights that no other human would ever achieve in history.

The Confidence to Grow

by Rabbi Abba Wagensberg
This week, we begin the Book of Exodus.  One of the primary events of this week’s portion is the story of the Burning Bush (Exodus 3:2). It seems odd that God would choose to appear to Moses in this way. Why was a bush necessary at all? Couldn’t God have appointed Moses as the redeemer of the Jewish people without a Burning Bush, in the same way that He appeared to the other prophets?
The Slonimer Rebbe helps us resolve this question by distinguishing between the two parts of the Burning Bush: (1) the fire on the outside, and (2) the bush on the inside. According to his interpretation, the fire represents all the impurities of the world — in particular, the impurities of Egypt. Fire symbolizes burning passions that can cause one to yield to temptation, and that have the ability to consume any obstacle that stands in their way. The bush, on the other hand, symbolizes the spiritual strength that each of us carries deep within. This inner strength is an eternal core that can never be consumed.
Moses saw how steeped the Jewish people were in the impurities of Egyptian society. He thought that the people would never be able to rise above their degraded spiritual state because he assumed they were satisfied with their current level. This could have been a tragic misconception. According to the Admor of Kuvrin, the worst thing we can do is to sell ourselves short. Once we convince ourselves that we will never be able to grow beyond our current level, we actually prevent ourselves from achieving our ultimate potential!
This is why God tells Moses, “I have seen (ra’oh ra’iti) the affliction of My people in Egypt” (Exodus 3:7). The Midrash (Shmot Raba 3:2) points out that the verb “to see” appears in two forms in this verse. This double language hints to God’s penetrating vision — as if God were saying to Moses, “You see with only one pair of eyes, but I see with an additional pair.” Before the revelation at the Burning Bush, Moses lacked faith in the Jewish people’s ability to overcome the challenges in their path and grow to greater levels. Moses saw only the fires of impurity on the outside.
God, however, saw the people’s inner spiritual power — a strength that, like the bush, would never be destroyed. Moses needed to experience the Burning Bush in order to develop confidence in the people’s ability to shed their surface impurity and tap into their powerful spiritual core.
May we always be satisfied with our material state of being (as it says in Avot 4:1, “Who is wealthy? One who is happy with his portion”), but never be satisfied with our spiritual  achievements. We should take pleasure in what we have accomplished thus far, but not see our current achievements as indicators of our ultimate potential.
And may we have the courage to tap into our deepest inner essence and constantly grow, no matter what fires we may have played with on the outside.

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“Who you are tomorrow depends on what you do today”  –  Tim Fargo

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One evening, Goldie left dinner in the oven for a little bit too long and the kitchen filled with smoke — then the smoke detector went off. Goldie searched the house for her children only to find them in the bathroom, washing their hands.  Over the loud buzzing of the smoke alarm, Goldie asked them to identify the sound.
“It’s the smoke detector,” they replied in unison.
“Do you know what that sound means?” Goldie demanded.
“Sure,” they replied. “Dinner’s ready.”

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