In Jewish history, there is a hardly an object more expounded upon than the burning bush. Its symbolism is analyzed, its significance expounded upon, and its impact is noted for generations. This week, rather than discuss the actual burning bush and its meaning, I’d like to view the event from a totally different approach — Moshe’s.
The Torah tells us in Exodus 3:1- 4 that Moshe was shepherding the sheep of Yisro, his father-in-law, when, “an angel of G-d appeared to him in a blaze of fire from amidst the bush. Moshe saw the event and behold, the bush was burning in fire and yet the bush was not consumed. Moshe said, ‘I will turn from my course and see the marvelous sight — why does the bush not burn?’ Hashem saw that Moshe turned from his path to see the sight and He called out to him from amidst the bush and said, ‘Moshe Moshe… ‘” The conversation ultimately leads to our exodus from Egypt.
However, the entire narrative, from the moment that Moshe notices the burning bush until Hashem speaks to him from its midst, seems overstated. After Moshe sees the amazing sight, why does the Torah mention that Moshe says “I will go look at the amazing sight?” Further, why does the Torah preface Hashem’s charge to Moshe with the words, ” Hashem saw that Moshe turned from his path to see the sight, and He called out to him from amidst the bush?” It seems that only after Hashem openly acknowledges Moshe’s interest in the spectacle does he call out, “Moshe, Moshe,” thus beginning the process of redemption.
The Torah, which never uses needless words, could have simply stated, ” Moshe saw that the bush was burning and yet the bush was not consumed. Moshe turned to marvelous sight, and Hashem called out to him from amidst the bush and said, ‘Moshe Moshe… ‘”
The Midrash Tanchuma expounds upon the verse, “Moshe turned from his path to see the sight.” There is an argument whether he took three steps or just craned his neck. The Midrash continues. Hashem said, “you pained yourself to look, I swear you are worthy that I reveal myself to you.”
The Medrash was definitely bothered by the extra wording regarding Moshe’s decision to look and Hashem’s open commendation of that decision. But it is still very difficult to understand. Moshe sees a spectacle of miraculous proportions and looks. Why is that such a meritorious act? Doesn’t everyone run to a fire? Aren’t there hoards that gather to witness amazing events?
In the early 1920’s, Silas Hardoon, a Sephardic Jewish millionaire, made his fortune living in China. Childless, he began to give his money away to Chinese charities. One night his father appeared in a dream and implored him to do something for his own people. Silas shrugged it off. After all, there were hardly any of his people in China. But the dreams persisted, and Silas decided to act. The next day he spoke to Chacham Ibraham, a Sephardic Rabbi who led the tiny Chinese Jewish community. The Chacham’s advice sounded stranger than the dreams. He told Silas to build a beautiful synagogue in the center of Shanghai. It should contain more than 400 seats, a kitchen, and a dining room. Mr. Hardoon followed the charge to the letter. He named the shul “Bais Aharon” in memory of his father. A few years later Mr. Hardoon died leaving barely a minyan to enjoy a magnificent edifice, leaving a community to question the necessity of the tremendous undertaking.
In 1940, Japanese counsel to Lithuania Sempo Sugihara issued thousands of visas for Kovno Jews to take refuge in Curaçao via Japan. Included in that group was the Mirrer Yeshiva. They arrived in Kobe but were transported to Shanghai where they remained for the entire war. The Mirrer Yeshiva had a perfect home with a kitchen, study hall and dining room — Bais Aharon! The building had exactly enough seats to house all the students for five solid years of Torah study during the ravages of World War II. The dream of decades earlier combined with action, became a thriving reality.
Moshe our Teacher knew from the moment he spotted that bush that something very extraordinary was occurring. He had two choices: approach the spectacle or walk on. If he nears the bush he knew he would face an experience that would alter his life forever. Hashem knew that Moshe had this very difficult conflict. His approach would require commitment and self sacrifice. He took three steps that changed the course of history. Hashem understood the very difficult decision Moshe had made and declared that such fortitude is worthy of the redeemer of my children.
In many aspects of our lives we encounter situations that may commit us to change. It may be a new charity we decide to let through our doors, or a new patient we decide to see, or even a new worthy cause we decide to entertain. They all require us to take three steps and look. If we walk away, we may not just be ignoring a burning issue. We may be ignoring another burning bush.