Elizabeth Brenner Danziger

Noticing the Burning Bush

Moses and the burning bush. Story of book of exodus in bible. The shrub was on fire, but was not consumed by the flames. 3D render illustration.
Moses turn aside and saw the burning bush. (iStock)

During a recent visit to Jerusalem, a woman in her 80s explained how she came to live in Israel. Her father was at Auschwitz when it was liberated. He lay atop a pile of corpses, unable to move. He’d been thrown there by Nazi soldiers rushing to “clean up” before the victorious Americans arrived. Fortunately, they threw him face up. A passing American soldier noticed the man blinking his eyes and rescued him. The man recovered, was reunited with his wife and daughter (who told me the story over coffee in a Jerusalem restaurant). The soldier saved a life and made many more lives possible by noticing a minute movement.

In the Parshas Shemos, we read about Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush. According to the text, Moses was wandering through the wilderness with his sheep, minding his own business, when he noticed a nearby bush that was burning yet not consumed. At this point, he could have said to himself, “Hmmm, that’s weird,” and continued to chase wayward lambs. But he didn’t do that. Instead, he said, “Let me turn aside now and see this great sight; why will the bush not be burned?” He was curious.

The Torah goes on to say that “God saw that he had turned aside to see; and God called out to him, “Moses! Moses!” And we know the rest.

What would have happened had Moses not bothered to “turn aside and see?” Presumably, God would have found another candidate to lead the Children of Israel out of Egypt.

What would have happened if the soldier at Auschwitz had glanced at the pile of corpses and rushed by? The man would have died instead of what actually happened, which is that he was reunited with his family, moved to Israel, had two sons, and lived to see great-grandchildren.

So, Moses’ life-changing moment came after he observed, felt curious, and acted on his curiosity. Likewise, the soldier must have been horrified by the larger atrocities he saw in the concentration camp, but he was observant enough to notice something as small as the blink of an eye.

Whenever I read this passage, I wonder, “What burning bushes are crackling off my beaten path? Is God trying to get my attention while I am absorbed in my busy life? And if God is trying to get my attention, what should I do about it?” I may not be called on to change a nation’s history, but I am responsible for myself. I would hate to think I missed the boat because I was busy looking at my phone.

We may not all have “burning-bush moments” like Moses did, but we all can experience personal burning-bush moments if we watch for them. Our inspiration may come from anywhere – hearing a snatch of conversation,  having a profound dream, or reading something shocking. Of course, there is a limit to what we can interpret from these burning-bush moments. If I feel inspired to hurt someone else or to hurt myself or to court financial ruin, that would not be a brainwave worth following. After all, every synaptic flash is not an email from heaven. Our actions must remain ethical.

Still, I believe we benefit from being alert, curious and willing to act on unusual events. Noticing the burning bush requires the mental space and time to take in an oddity. Breathless from the daily grind, we may lack the strength and will to explore experiences that don’t quite fit the norm.

Without the bandwidth to say, “Hey! This is a message! What is it trying to tell me?” we keep our thumbs on the keys of our phone screens, and the divine voice ready to call our names will pass us by. We will never know what we missed by being always occupied.

I believe that the Divine intervenes in our lives daily. By being aware and willing to explore anomalies and ask whether they contain a message from God, we emulate Moses’ momentous actions. Even if we don’t have God calling us in the wilderness or from the ruins of Auschwitz, he is still calling. Our job is to listen.

About the Author
Elizabeth Brenner Danziger is the author of four books, including Winning by Letting Go (Harcourt Brace: 1985) and Get to the Point! (Random House: 2001). Her work has appeared in many national magazines. She is the president of Worktalk Communications Consulting. She has four grown children and many grandchildren. She has been living an observant Jewish life for 40 years.
Related Topics
Related Posts