As the Jews suffer building palaces, Moshe resides in the palace.
The two stories are parallel realities which seem unlikely to intersect- though as we know it is only the impossible intersection of the yet unknown redeemer with the enslaved Jewish people that can provide redemption.
Moshe’s encounter with the Egyptians and Jews in the field for a moment seems to provide an opportunity for Moshe to enter the story as a redeemer, but instead he flees to Midyan where he remains until the remarkable encounter with God at the burning bush.
Moshe is profoundly fascinated and frightened by the bush which would not be consumed for the flames. But fascination alone does not inspire a savior, certainly not a Moshe figure – redeemer and Law giver of the Jewish people.
What is it about that encounter that is so formative that it can produce the Jewish leader par excellence? What about the burning bush is so unique as to serve as the formative moment for the conceiving of Jewish nationhood- the turning point in the first of, and as the Talmud tells us, the prototype for all subsequent Jewish salvations?
I believe the answer is that the Burning Bush story reflects not just a transformation of a redeemer, but of THE Redeemer as we know of him so far.
God at the Bush declares Himself not merely the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob but Hashem, YKVK, the name used for God of intimate encounter with the redemption of His people, as Chazal understood it. He first declares that He has seen the oppression of the Jewish people and that He, God, will be the savior:
וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה רָאֹה רָאִיתִי אֶת עֳנִי עַמִּי אֲשֶׁר בְּמִצְרָיִם וְאֶת צַעֲקָתָם שָׁמַעְתִּי מִפְּנֵי נֹגְשָׂיו כִּי יָדַעְתִּי אֶת מַכְאֹבָיו. ח וָאֵרֵד לְהַצִּילוֹ מִיַּד מִצְרַיִם וּלְהַעֲלֹתוֹ מִן הָאָרֶץ הַהִוא אֶל אֶרֶץ טוֹבָה וּרְחָבָה אֶל אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבָשׁ אֶל מְקוֹם הַכְּנַעֲנִי וְהַחִתִּי וְהָאֱמֹרִי וְהַפְּרִזִּי וְהַחִוִּי וְהַיְבוּסִי
The recognition of the Jews suffering is Divine Anthropathy- God’s displaying very human emotions- in a way that Abraham’s Kel Shadai didn't do.
This is a new face of God, who even to the Avot never entered into the fray of national tragedy or national liberation. God’s declaration at the Bush that He is the God of the Forefathers is an introduction of Himself to Moshe, but it is not His essence in the encounter.
The transformation of God’s role in the world surely deserves a public declaration with miraculous visions- something less shepard- in- the- wilderness seeing a burning bush. So why, out of all things, did God choose to reveal himself to Moshe through a fire in a lowly thornbush? The 4th century Eretz Yisrael Midrash Pirkei D’R. Eliezer (Chapter 30) cites a Midrashic tradition to answer this question:
The Fifth descent was when He came down to the thornbush, as it is said, "And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians." (Ex. iii. 8). He abandoned the entire mountain and descended into the thornbush, and He abode therein. And the thorn-bush was (an emblem of) grief and distress, and it was full of thorns and thistles. Why did he abide in the midst of the thornbush which was (an emblem of) grief and distress? Because He saw Israel in great grief and He also dwelt with them, thus fulfilling that which is said, "In all" their affliction He was afflicted" (Isa. Ixiii. 9).
The Midrash, which Rashi also quotes here, is part of a large literature describing God’s suffering alongside the Jewish people. The Midrash points to the fact that it was precisely the content that was the reason for his appearance in the burning bush.
A God who is intimately involved in the day-to-day suffering and salvation of His nation cannot reside on His throne while His people suffer.
He cannot come speak to Moshe from a mighty place, from a high mountain, he needs to connect to His people's experiences. He presents himself to Moshe with the image of the burning bush. The God YKVK must intimately join the Jews in the thornbush- he must be empathetic. And only from that lowly, tragic space, as another Midrash says, will he join them in their redemption.שיעורים נוספים ניתן למצוא בקטגוריות הבאות: פרשת שבוע (שמות)
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