Mordechai Silverstein

The Making of the Ultimate Prophet

How odd of God to have chosen a bush for his initial prophecy to Moshe, his greatest prophet. One might have expected a more grandiose and impressive vision. Judging from the panoply of rabbinic interpretations for why God may have made such a choice, the sages were similarly confounded. Perhaps a bush was chosen so that we might focus our attention on Moshe rather than on the bush.

Why was Moshe chosen to be the nation’s savior? To answer this question, one midrash gives the story of the “burning bush’ a totally different frame of reference. In the original telling, God attends to Moshe because Moshe’s curiosity is piqued by the bush which burns but is not consumed: ‘And God saw that he {Moshe) had turned aside to see’ (Exodus 3:4)

Here is how the story is retold by the midrash: “Moshe saw their suffering and cried, saying, ‘Woe unto me over what is happening to you. I would give my life to alleviate your suffering, for there is no work as arduous as making bricks.’ And so, he decided to help them in their labors… [Remember now, Moshe was “royalty”, raised in Pharaoh’s house. He did not live the life of his people, the Israelites, nor was there any reason for him to acknowledge their suffering. Nevertheless,] he set aside his royal clothing and helped them as if he was helping Pharaoh. Said the Holy One Blessed be He [to Moshe], ‘You set aside your royal position and went to see your people’s suffering and you have treated them like they were your own family. I, therefore, will set aside both the upper realm and the lower realm in order to speak with you’, as it is written: ‘And God saw that he {Moshe) had turned aside to see’ (Exodus 3:4) – The Holy One Blessed be He saw that Moshe turned aside from his own affairs to see their suffering. And this is why ‘He (God) called to him (Moshe) from the bush’ (Ibid)” (Adapted from Shmot Rabbah 1:27, Shinan edition pp. 85-86)

The “burning bush” was not really the focus of this story. It was no miracle for God to do the miraculous. According to this midrash, when Moshe stepped out of his world, putting his own concerns aside, in order to help those less fortunate than himself that was the true miracle. This is what made Moshe prophetic material and the ultimate paradigm of Jewish behavior.

About the Author
Mordechai Silverstein is a teacher of Torah who has lived in Jerusalem for over 30 years. He specializes in helping people build personalized Torah study programs.
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