Shemot 5769

Posted on March 23, 2011

by Judah Kerbel, 2009 USY International Religion/Education VP, 5769

January 17, 2009/21 Tevet 5769

In Parashat Shemot, Moses was out shepherding Jethro’s flock when he received a call. No, not on his cell phone, but through a phenomenon even greater than cell phones:

Va-yeirah Malach Adonai eilav b’labat eish mitoch ha-sneh va-yar v’hinei ha-sneh bo’er ba-eish v’ha-sneh einenu u’kal (Shemot 3:2).An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire out of a bush. He gazed, and there was a bush all a flame, yet the bush was not consumed (Etz Hayim Humash, p. 327).

The burning bush catches Moses’ eye, and bearing the human trait of curiosity, he merely intends to check out this supernatural phenomenon of bush that burns but does not turn to ashes. God then calls out to Moses, he cries out the famous “hineini,” I am here [at your service], and the rest is history. The appearance of God through a bush seems to bear significance. The medieval commentator Chizkuni analogizes the burning bush to the Jewish people, explaining that “it is a sign comparing Egypt and Israel, as the enemy is compared to the fire and Israel to the bush. And like the fire did not consume the bush, in this fashion the enemy could not defeat Israel.” Philo, the Jewish-Hellenistic philosopher from 1st century Egypt, comments that “the bush that burns but is not consumed symbolizes the Jewish people, perpetually attacked and endangered but perpetually surviving” (327).

Davka today, I came across an Israeli scientist named Isaac Berzin, who has developed a method for utilizing algae to produce biofuel and to consume carbon dioxide (no pun intended). He was named one of the Top 100 people of 2008 in Time Magazine, and in the profile of his work, Time includes an analogy he made to the burning bush. “What can you burn without consuming it,” he asks. “Renewable fuels.”

What is our renewable fuel that has prevented our enemies from annihilating us over a span of over 3000 years? The answer, in my opinion, is our covenant with God – adherence to Torah. Going back to Chanukah, which feels like so long ago already, the Jews’ victory against Antiochus & Co. was a military victory vital for the spiritual success of the Jewish people. All wars that the Jewish people have fought, whether physically or spiritually, have been fought for the sake of keeping alive God’s covenant. Our observance of Torah is not merely a luxury &@8211; it is necessary for our survival. As the saying goes, “water for fish is like Torah for the Jews.” So long as our commitment to Judaism remains a priority for the Jewish people, we can thrive. We have the willpower, evident in our constant survival as our enemies still attempt to destroy us, as well as our faith and our principles. A comment in our Humash: “to see that a bush is on fire is easy; to see that it is not consumed takes time and patience ….” (327). We must continue to struggle to add sanctity to our lives and keep the faith alive even when times make it hard to do so.

As I discuss our enemies’ inabilities to destroy us, I add in a prayer that as our brave soldiers fight Hamas, an organization committed to eradicating Israel and Jews, we hope for their safety and well-being, and that their courage will send a message to a cynical world that the Jewish people do not let up when their legacy is at stake.