Shemot: Is the bush still burning?

Somewhere, maybe,
the bush is still burning.
Are we passing by,
our focus elsewhere,
not seeing the flames leaping
from the indestructible shrub?
Are the golds and reds
not bright enough to catch our eye?
Is our ear not tuned
to hear God’s voice
calling from the bush?
Are we still listening?


The Etz Hayim commentary of the JPS points out that to notice that a bush is on fire is easy, but to realise that it is not consumed requires a different level of attention: “How long must one watch a burning bush before realising that it is not being consumed by the flames? How many miracles might be happening around us, but we, in our haste, never stop to notice them?”
In his book, God was in this place and I, i did not know, Rabbi Laurence Kushner brings an old Hasidic story told by Martin Buber, of the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov. They all gathered to learn with the master after evening prayers. One night, as they left the room, one follower apologized to the others for monopolizing so much of the Rebbe’s attention. His friend retorted that although they had all entered the room together, the master had actually spoken only to him all along. A third was convinced that their teacher had conducted a conversation exclusively with him. Each of the disciples, it transpired, had experienced the feeling that he alone had had an intimate conversation with the holy master. Rabbi Kushner says, “So it is with us when we read scripture. The biblical text speaks intimately and demands an intensely personal response.” He says that there is a “similar intensity of attention when Moses encounters God at the bush”. This episode is often described as a miracle that God employed to attract Moses’ attention. But Rabbi Kushner disagrees. He points out that if you watch wood burn, you need to concentrate for quite a few minutes to actually notice that the wood is not being consumed as even dry kindling is not burned up for quite a few moments. (He adds that producers of television commercials have ascertained that the span of human visual attention is only about a minute!) So Rabbi Kushner says that at the burning bush, God was testing Moses to see whether he could sustain his attention for more than a few moments. When Moses did, then God spoke to him. “The trick is to pay attention to what is going on around you long enough to behold the miracle without falling asleep. There is another world, right here within this one, whenever we pay attention.”

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