Friday, January 20, 2017

The Bush Still Burns

Originally written for Erev Shabbat 31 Dec. 1999
The crossing of the Reed Sea and Giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai are the major root ‎experiences of the Jewish people – earth shattering events in which the entire population ‎participated and which shaped our collective memory ever after. In this week’s reading, ‎we find a much smaller, quieter theophany, without which the others never would have ‎been. I am referring to the Burning Bush.  ‎
Moses is shepherding his father-in-law’s flocks, earning his keep and dreaming whatever ‎dreams a fugitive pseudo-prince doing manual work might dream when he sees an ‎amazing site: a bush that burns but not consumed. ‎
Moses must have given that bush more than a passing glance in order to see that it was ‎not consumed. Careful observation, attention to detail was necessary. Not only did Moses ‎observe the bush closely enough to see that it was not being consumed but he also ‎appreciated the wonder before his eyes and took the time to acknowledge it and attempt to ‎understand it: “I will turn aside now and see this great site, why the bush is not burnt.”‎
This attentiveness was, apparently, one of the qualities that God was looking for in a ‎leader. And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the ‎bush and said “Moses, Moses.” Moses immediately recognizes that he is being called and ‎modestly hides his face in awe. God begins by reviewing the sorry state of Israel in Egypt ‎and proposes sending Moses to Pharaoh in order to facilitate their release. Moses ‎responds by asking, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should bring forth ‎the children of Israel?” God’s response is does not directly answer that question – He ‎knows that Moses knows perfectly well that he was once a member of Pharaoh’s ‎household and has a far better chance than any other Israelite of getting through the ‎door. God simply promises: “Certainly I will be with you…” ‎
However, this is far from the end of the dialogue. Moses tacitly accepts the mission but ‎does not run off to start immediately. First, he prepares himself by anticipating potential ‎reactions and “rehearsing” appropriate responses:” When I come to the people of Israel, ‎what should I say to them.” “Thus shall you say, ‘I AM sent me to you,” as well as signs and wonders (visual effects).
Although the moment is certainly one of great import for the people of Israel, the story of ‎the bush, like much of the Torah, may be read on another level, one we could call ‎‎“personal/spiritual” or, more traditionally, “the deeds of the ancestors are signposts for ‎their descendants.”  In this reading, Moses is not the “historical” Moses but rather a ‎prototype for “every-person” and God speaks from within. The revelation at the Burning ‎Bush is a prototype for the moment, or the process, by which a person recognizes his/her ‎calling in life. ‎
Attentiveness is the first requirement for recognizing “the moment.” The attentiveness may ‎be internal or external, depending on the situation, but it is essential. ‎
Hesitation is a normal, human response to a major decision or undertaking, but this ‎hesitation should not prevent us from doing what we know we must do, just as Moses ‎accepted the challenge because he knew that it was the right thing to do. ‎
Anticipation and preparation are also critical elements in success of any mission
Yuval, Parashat Shemot is your parasha not only because this is your Bar Mitzvah week ‎but also because it suits you so well. Moses may be a rather large role-model but he is ‎truly your role model, nonetheless. We do not need to teach you about the importance of ‎attentiveness or how to observe and understand the world, especially the physical world, ‎around you. You could probably teach most of us a thing or two about that. You have also ‎begun to understand how anticipation and participation can help you to overcome ‎hesitation and obstacles. ‎
Thirteen years ago at your brit we sang:‎
Those that have come to Thee under your covenant are circumcised.‎The redeemed sang a new song to your name.‎They show their token to all who see them, making tassels on the corners of their ‎garment (talit).‎The redeemed sang a new song to your name.‎
Thirteen years ago, the winter was cold, wet and windy enough to blow the roof off. We ‎wrapped you in blankets and held you close to protect you for danger. Now, we have ‎given you a talit in which to wrap yourself, and you have helped tie its special tzitzit with a thread of blue. 
It bears God’s promise “Certainly I will be with ‎you…” 

Equipped with attentiveness, anticipation and preparation, may you go forth, as an ‎adolescent and an adult, strengthened by a foundation of family, tradition, community ‎and nation on which you will build your future. ‎