This week’s Torah portion is “Shemot” (Exodus 1:1 – 6:1) and it begins the book of Exodus following the conclusion of the book of Genesis last week. In this week’s portion the Jewish people have settled in Egypt and made it their home. Unfortunately, however, a new Pharaoh comes to power and conveniently “forgets” all the contributions that the Jewish people made to Egyptian society, economy, and general welfare. He decides to enslave them.

Eventually a certain Jew was born whose name was Moses. One day Moses went out to see for himself what kind of suffering the Jews were subject to. He noticed an Egyptian overseer savagely beating one of the Hebrews. Infuriated by what he saw, he killed the Egyptian right there and then and buried the body in the sand. Somehow Pharaoh heard about what had happened and sought to kill Moses. Moses fled for his life and headed to Midian. While in Midian he met and married Zippora and began his life as a shepherd.

One day while shepherding his flock Moses noticed an extraordinary sight – a bush that was on fire but was not being consumed. As he approached the bush in order to get a better look, he heard the voice of God speaking to him and was told to remove his shoes. God told Moses that he was to be His messenger to redeem the Jews from Egyptian slavery and take them to the Promised Land. The rest, as they say, is history.

How are we to understand the episode of the burning bush? Our sages have offered a number of interpretations, and I would like to share two of them with you.

By using an insignificant and frail little thorn bush to deliver His message, God is teaching us that there is no place or object in the world that is not infused with Godliness. God could have appeared to Moses at the top of a palace, on the highest mountain, or as a voice out of the sky, but no, He chose a meager thorn bush. For God, nothing is insignificant, and we should internalize this message, as well. We should never think that we are better or above anything or anyone else.

On a more nationalistic note, the burning of a bush that was not consumed was intended to symbolize that the Jewish people would never be consumed. The Jewish people have gone through many “fires.” From the slavery of Egypt, to the Amalekites, to the Exile from the Promised Land, pogroms, crusades, inquisitions, and holocausts, the Jewish people know what “fire” is. The Jewish people know what it means to be “burned”. But yet, the bush is not consumed. The Jewish people continue to survive against all odds. God was telling Moses, and all mankind forever, – the Jewish people will survive.

History repeats itself. Yesterday it was Pharaoh, today it is Ahmadinejad. But today with thanks to God, we have an army to protect us. This time, the Jewish people, the State of Israel, and the Israel Defense Forces know very well how to put out the “fire” even before it is lit.

Shabbat Shalom from Israel!

Rabbi Ari Enkin

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