Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Shemot
I once dated someone in school. A friend of mine took me aside one day. He told me that dating this woman was like playing with fire. At first, I was alarmed at his thought. I asked him to explain. “She is really strong willed! You won’t win.” I looked back and nodded, but thought to myself, “Strongly willed … that can be a good thing!” “Without revealing my source, I asked my girlfriend about the comment. She looked at me and returned the question. “What do I think?” I replied. “Well, I thought that I asked you out because I appreciated your strength.” “Good,” she said, “Your source is right.” I smiled. She smiled. We dated for a few months until we got involved in other things.
Playing with fire. Why do people always take this concept in such a negative way? Fire certainly can destroy, but how much more does it help create? It helps us build cities, build shelter, prepare sustaining meals, warm our bodies, and give light in even the darkest times.
Moses sees a burning bush that consumes nothing, including itself. Its only function is to give warmth and light: and enlightenment. Every time I read this Torah portion (Shemot – the first in Exodus) I find myself uncomfortably distracted. Why do we think of providing light and warmth as such an unusual experience?
I keep trying to help on both sides of any political dispute that each of us is human first. We love, we nurture, we learn and teach; we do all sorts of things that root in growing light and sharing our warmth. Even in our most heated disagreements, we come from places that begin with “human.”
Perhaps we emphasize the wrong message from this piece of Torah. I get that the sight is miraculous. Giving light and love are miraculous. That the bush did not harm anyone or anything is not a miracle unique to this story. It is, however, a reminder that the real purpose of fire is to engage, not engulf. We read this story every year to remind us that we are this fire, each of us. Moses has to remove his shoes because he stands on holy ground. Holiness exists because he stands before the purest use of fire. God demands that he recognize the power of this flame and that imbued in holiness; he is this flame.
If Moses forgets the holiness of this light, it becomes a most destructive force. Moses is us. If we forget the holiness of light, it can be blinding and cause devastating loss.
At the end of the episode, Moses says, “(Now that I have experienced Your light,) Who shall I say sent me to share this light?” God says, “Eh-yeh asher eh-yeh – I Am.” One does not have to recite words of prayer to experience God. One does not have to observe rituals to experience God. One has only to share light; let the fire on the altar of our soul bring warmth and light to everyone we engage. It is from this altar that faith emanates. This faith can manifest in many religions, but it will still be the same faith in the same God, requiring us to share this very same light. Any religious dogma or political debate that abuses this flame, that uses it to hurt another is simply a blaspheme.
“I Am.” So, do I strive to be. Join me.