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And the Bush Was Not Consumed

December 24, 2010

And the Bush Was Not Consumed:

It’s Erev Christmas Eve – the night before Christmas Eve – and I’m sitting here thinking about Moses. Not unusual for a Jew, or all the more so, for a rabbi, but then again, it is Erev Christmas Eve. And while I don’t often bring a spiritual theme or religious text into my blog writings, this one felt appropriate. And of course, the Torah – Judaism’s most sacred text – is the Old Testament in Christianity, so the story of Moses isn’t that far afield.

This week in synagogue we read the beginning of the story of Moses. We walk his early days with him and witness the moment he is first called upon by God. Moses is tending his sheep and he encounters a burning bush. Exodus Chapter 3 verse 2 says: “He [Moses] gazed, and there was a bush all aflame, yet the bush was not consumed.” Some of you may be having a Charlton Heston moment.

The Sages point out that while it might have been easy to notice that the bush was burning, that to have noticed that it was not being consumed was less ordinary. It would have required that Moses observed the bush long enough, and with enough attention and perception, to notice that the bush was not being burned. It took time and patience, and a willingness to go beyond the surface. While Moses gazed at the bush, he was demonstrating leadership qualities that would be instrumental to him in his fulfillment of the task that God would ask of him.

Looking closely at the text, we see that God does not speak to Moses until after Moses had observed the blaze and had deduced that the bush wasn’t being consumed. It’s as if God had been waiting to see if Moses would use his discernment to see that something about this bush was not at all typical. Indeed, Moses did just that.

I spent many years living in California’s drought, and have experienced closely numerous deadly wildfires. I expect that my immediate thought upon seeing a burning bush in the wilderness would have been to douse it. What might have happened if Moses had noticed the fire and had immediately begun to kick sand on it, or if he had turned away from it running to look for water? Nowhere does the story of Moses indicate – or even intimate – that these thoughts were going through Moses’ mind. Instead, what occurred to Moses was to go beyond an immediate reaction, and to take a good, long, studied look and see what he would discover.

How often are things not what they seem? How often it is that we find ourselves in a situation that we think is one thing, and we react to it only to find that it wasn’t at all what we had anticipated. How often that we quickly judge others, never giving them a chance. We might wind up kicking ourselves in the foot for embarrassing ourselves or someone else, by acting before we have gathered enough information to respond to a situation effectively. Or worse yet, we may cut ourselves off from the deep joy of experiencing someone else’s perspectives, cultures, or ideas. To take the time to fully evaluate a situation, thoughtfully and patiently, without jumping to conclusions, might guide us to respond completely differently from our first impression and bring us more constructive results.

It is easy to for us have a knee-jerk reaction, especially to occurrences that look like something we have seen before. However, when we do so, we usually miss subtlety. We may miss the significance beneath the surface view, overlook a unique opportunity, rob ourselves of meaningful relationships, or miss cultivating qualities that will serve us and others for good.

In this season, we are bringing good cheer. We are thinking about peace on earth and goodwill towards all humans. Whatever your sacred text, whether it be Christian, Jewish, Muslim, from another faith or from the secular world, this season – and every day that follows – is the time for us to begin to live in such a way as to bring goodness to all into reality. Moses shows us that not every burning bush is the beginning of a forest fire. By extension, people, whether close to us or different from us in culture or religion, are not necessarily who we peg them to be. In any given moment and with any given individual, wisdom and an encounter with holiness may lie just beneath the surface.

May your holiday season be filled with light and joy, and may we all extend our hearts and hands to one another in harmony.

We post every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Robin Damsky

Robin Damsky is the rabbi of West Suburban Temple Har Zion in River Forest, Illinois, and co-author of Find-Fulfill-Flourish: Discover Your Purpose with LifePath GPS – a book, website, tools, and workshop series focused on guiding people toward more meaningful and fulfilling lives.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 24, 2010 11:47 am


    Very nice message. Wishing FFF team a Merry Christmas.


    • December 24, 2010 3:50 pm

      Thank you Sonia. We wish all our readers, friends and family a wonderful holiday season and a new year that is everything you hope it to be.

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