Parshah Commentary for Shemot

20 Dec

This week’s parshah contains the story of the burning bush, which contains a number of firsts in the Torah.  The most interesting of these is the burning bush itself, which is the first time that God sends a miraculous sign specifically to get someone’s attention.  When revealing Himself to Noah and Abraham, God simply called down from the Heavens and they paid attention to Him.  With Moses, who is tending to his sheep in the middle of a desert with no one else around, God creates this burning bush, and only when Moses has seen the bush and recognized that there is something anomalous about it does God finally call out to him (Ex. 3:2-4).  What was so important about the sight of the burning bush itself that God needed Moses to see it and fully take it in before tasking him with his Divine mission?

Much has been said about the symbolism of the burning bush.  The fire represents Egypt, unable to consume the bush that is the Jewish people.  Or perhaps the thorny bush represents Egypt, who painfully afflicted the Israelites, and the supernatural fire represents God punishing Egypt.  Or perhaps the fire represents the Jewish people and bush, eternally feeding it so that it never dies out, represents God.  All of these answers, and many more, are valid, depending on how you want to see things.  The same image can symbolize different things to different people.  In Moses’ case, though, perhaps all three of these were necessary.

Despite being raised as a prince in Pharaoh’s palace, Moses has always known that he is an Israelite and has always tried to sympathize with their plight.  When walking around one day, he happens upon an Egyptian taskmaster mercilessly beating an Israelite slave.  Seeing that there was no one around to intervene and stop this savage beating, Moses takes matters into his own hands.  He defends the Israelite, likely saving the man’s life, and kills the Egyptian taskmaster.

The very next day Moses again goes out for a walk and comes across two Israelites fighting each other.  Moses insists that they stop fighting and asks the aggressor (almost certainly the very same man Moses had saved the day before) “why do you strike your fellow? (Ex.2:13)” to which the slave snidely responds “who made you ruler and judge over us?  Are you going to kill me just like you killed that Egyptian? (Ex. 2:14)”

This statement certainly must have had a jarring effect on Moses.  He saves a man’s life, only to be repaid by a total lack of appreciation for his deed, seeing the man he saved attacking one of his brethren and publicly telling everyone about Moses’ “crime.”  Imagine what Moses must be thinking:  “If this man was just going to go out and attack others, was it really worth it to take another man’s life to save his?  And if the Israelites will turn on each other instead of banding together to help survive these harsh times and turn on those who help them, do they really deserve to be freed?”

During his time in exile Moses has had a lot of time to think these questions over.  Now that it is time for him to play his part in the liberation of the Jewish people, God sends Moses the answer to these questions:  Yes.  Killing the Egyptian was justified, and God, too, will soon take vengeance upon Egypt.  There are a few bad apples in every bunch, but the Egyptians will never defeat the Jewish people because they stand together as one.  They will eternally draw strength from their God and their tradition.  They can never be conquered.

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