Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Insights into the Burning Bush

The mid-December release of the motion picture Exodus: Gods and Kings is the most recent in a long line of dramatic recreations of Biblical narratives. Such dramas have been attempted long before movie cameras were invented - in theaters and even before that by roving bands of actors and performers.

One of the most difficult scenes to recreate - and one which might, perhaps, truly be better left to the mind’s eye rather than to others’ artistic interpretations - is the miraculous and mysterious burning bush.

The narrative of the burning bush, recorded in the third chapter of Exodus, takes place as Moses is herding his father-in-law’s sheep. In fact, the Midrash (Exodus Rabbah 2:2) explains that Moses only came upon the bush because he went searching for a lost lamb. God appears to him in the burning bush and Moses reacts by saying, “Let me turn and see this great spectacle, why does the bush not burn up?” After calling Moses over and instructing him to remove his shoes, God explains to Moses that He is the God of Moses’ forefathers, that He has seen the suffering of the Israelites and that He intends to have Moses serve as the instrument who carries out His plan for redeeming His people.

The great Medieval Bible commentator, Rashi (Rabbi Shimon ben Isaac, France, 1040-1105) provides a beautiful explanation on the significance of God appearing in a burning bush. When Moses hesitates and questions his own ability to complete this mission, God reassures him, “For I will be with you and this is the sign...” (Exodus 3:12). On this verse, Rashi comments: “...Just as you saw the bush performing My mission and was not harmed, so will you go on My mission and not be harmed.”

The Hebrew word for bush used in this chapter is sneh, which is specifically a thorn bush. In his explanation on Exodus 3:2, Rashi, citing the Midrash Tanuchuma, notes that God appeared in a thorn bush in order to demonstrate that the Al-mighty himself was with the Jewish people in the very midst of their distress.

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