And The Bush Was Not Consumed

It is hard to believe that it has been more than forty-five years since Dorris Lessing’s Briefing For a Descent Into Hell, one of my favorite books, was first published. Rather than write about science fiction that centered in outer space, Lessing wrote about science fiction that centered in inner space—the journey into our inner self.

Lessing makes the point that perception is dependent largely on what we expect to perceive.  A character in her novel observes that whole armies of angels could fly past a person, but if that person were not expecting such a phenomenon, it would go utterly unnoticed.

One of the most interesting perceptions of this nature arises when Moses perceives the Burning Bush—the bush that burned (no big deal) but was not consumed (a very big deal).

Moses is shepherding his father-in-law’s sheep in the middle of the desert. Suddenly Moses spots an extraordinary sight: a bush that burns but is not consumed. Curious to know what is going on, Moses turns toward the bush and hears the voice of the Divine speaking to him. Moses is subsequently credited with saving Israel from Egyptian slavery.

There is much discussion about why God communicates with Moses through the bush. Rashi sees the bush as a symbol of the Divine protection being spread over the Jewish people. Rabbenu Bachaya points out that the word for bush (sneh) is very close to the Hebrew word Sinai—pointing to the giving of the Torah at Sinai.

All of these explanations confirm that Halpern’s Rule #3 is correct.  When everyone agrees on something, they are probably wrong.  Each and every one of our learned ancestors focused on the meaning of the bush—why would the Lord use such a humble entity to communicate with Moses? But they all missed the point. Dorris Lessing had it right.

The important feature of God’s communication with Moses was not the bush itself—it was the fact that Moses turned toward the bush. Moses could have walked right by the bush, and the bush would have burned unnoticed. Moses was expecting to perceive the Holy—and, therefore, he did.

We walk sightless in a world filled with miracles, and we do not see them. Moses did see. So must we.

Rabbi Stanley Halpern