> Weekly Torah Portion > Intermediate > Between the Lines

The Confidence to Grow

Shmot (Exodus 1:1-6:1 )

by Rabbi Abba Wagensberg

Greetings from the holy city of Jerusalem!

This week, we begin the Book of Exodus. One of the primary events of this week's portion is the story of the Burning Bush (Exodus 3:2). It seems odd that God would choose to appear to Moses in this way. Why was a bush necessary at all? Couldn't God have appointed Moses as the redeemer of the Jewish people without a Burning Bush, in the same way that He appeared to the other prophets?

The Slonimer Rebbe helps us resolve this question by distinguishing between the two parts of the Burning Bush: (1) the fire on the outside, and (2) the bush on the inside. According to his interpretation, the fire represents all the impurities of the world - in particular, the impurities of Egypt. Fire symbolizes burning passions that can cause one to yield to temptation, and that have the ability to consume any obstacle that stands in their way. The bush, on the other hand, symbolizes the spiritual strength that each of us carries deep within. This inner strength is an eternal core that can never be consumed.

Moses saw how steeped the Jewish people were in the impurities of Egyptian society. He thought that the people would never be able to rise above their degraded spiritual state because he assumed they were satisfied with their current level. This could have been a tragic misconception. According to the Admor of Kuvrin, the worst thing we can do is to sell ourselves short. Once we convince ourselves that we will never be able to grow beyond our current level, we actually prevent ourselves from achieving our ultimate potential!

This is why God tells Moses, "I have seen (ra'oh ra'iti) the affliction of My people in Egypt" (Exodus 3:7). The Midrash (Shmot Raba 3:2) points out that the verb "to see" appears in two forms in this verse. This double language hints to God's penetrating vision - as if God were saying to Moses, "You see with only one pair of eyes, but I see with an additional pair." Before the revelation at the Burning Bush, Moses lacked faith in the Jewish people’s ability to overcome the challenges in their path and grow to greater levels. Moses saw only the fires of impurity on the outside.

God, however, saw the people's inner spiritual power - a strength that, like the bush, would never be destroyed. Moses needed to experience the Burning Bush in order to develop confidence in the people's ability to shed their surface impurity and tap into their powerful spiritual core.

May we always be satisfied with our material state of being (as it says in Avot 4:1, "Who is wealthy? One who is happy with his portion"), but never be satisfied with our spiritual achievements. We should take pleasure in what we have accomplished thus far, but not see our current achievements as indicators of our ultimate potential. And may we have the courage to tap into our deepest inner essence and constantly grow, no matter what fires we may have played with on the outside.

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