the burning bush

This week’s Torah portion is Shemot (Exodus 1:1-6:1), and it opens the second book of the Torah – the book of Exodus. Among the many events in this week’s reading is the episode of the burning bush. As it says, Moses was shepherding his father-in-law’s flock and he happened upon a fascinating sight: there was a bush in the desert that was burning, but it was not being consumed. Moses decided to turn aside to examine this sight further, and, as they say, the rest is history.

The commentators all ask the same question and a plethora of answers have been given: Why is it that God chose to reveal Himself in a measly, flimsy, thorny, bush? God could have revealed Himself in an entire list of more majestic and prestigious venues! A bush!??!

Among the answers that have been given is that God’s revelation in a burning bush was deeply symbolic, filled with great meaning. The thorny bush represents the Jewish people’s sojourns in Exile, beginning with the exile –and slavery- in Egypt. God was telling Moses, by appearing in a burning bush, that even though the exile will often be difficult and that it will often hurt – it will never consume us. Even when the unfriendly non-Jews “burn” us (literally!) –from Pharaoh right through to Hamas and Ahmadinijad – they will never completely destroy us.

Another answer given is that the burning bush also represents humility – the humility of Moses. The bush, being the insignificant and unattractive venue that it is, was a message to Moses about his superior quality as a towering, yet humble figure. Moses cringed at the idea of him being appointed as leader of the Jewish people. He wouldn’t hear of it. It was only until God actually got angry at his refusal, did he accept the job. And that is precisely why God got angry: because Moses was the perfect man for the job BECAUSE he was a “burning bush”: fiery yet humble.

These two messages are as vital for the Jewish people today just as they were so many thousands of years ago. With the establishment of the State of Israel, the suffering of the exile is at its very end. We now have a place where all Jews can call home, and all Jews can come to and live without fear of persecution for their beliefs and way of life. We also have our own army to defend us! These two developments were unheard of throughout the 2000 dark years of exile, where our host countries treated us to all kinds of pogroms, holocausts and inquisitions. Do you think that any Jew who lived in the path of the crusades ever thought that one day there would be a Jewish state of his own, where his own people would protect him? We are living in a new era. We are seeing the promise of the burning bush loud and clear: we’ve been burnt, but we haven’t been destroyed.

So too, our leaders need to be fiery, yet humble. They must not be scared to look the world in the eyes and say “This land is ours. We will do with it as we see fit”. And indeed, the government of Israel has shown tremendous leadership and initiative in light of recent threats, from the most recent Gaza war to the world trying to tell Israel where it can and cannot build homes for the Jewish people.

We continue to await the day when God will redeem us once more. Just as God redeemed us from the Egypt through Moses may He speedily send us the final redeemer: Mashiach, the Messiah.

Shabbat Shalom from Israel!

Rabbi Ari Enkin