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Mo​ses Looks, Then Looks Again, and God Knows That It's Time

January 15, 2009 By:
Rabbi Joyce Newmark
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As we begin reading the book of Shemot, the Torah's narrative transitions from the story of a family -- Abraham, Isaac and Jacob -- to the story of the Jewish people and two events that shaped our identity -- the exodus from Egypt and the giving of Torah at Mount Sinai.

We begin with an account of the birth and early life of Moses.

This story's central event is God's revelation and call to Moses at the burning bush. The Torah tells us that one day Moses was tending his father-in-law's sheep when he noticed a burning thorn bush.

Moses states: "I must turn aside to look at this marvelous sight." Then we read, "When God saw that he had turned aside to look, God called to him."

We can easily understand this passage to mean that the burning bush was a test -- that it was only after Moses decided to stop and take notice of it that God decided to call him.

It has been suggested that the bush had been burning for some time and that many people had seen it and said to themselves, "Oh, a burning bush, that's cool" -- and just kept on walking.

What distinguished Moses was that he saw the bush, recognized it as something extraordinary, and stopped to investigate it and try to understand what it meant.

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner sees another test in the burning bush, because the Torah tells us, "the bush was not consumed."

He writes: "How long would you have to watch wood burn before you could know whether or not it actually was being consumed? Even dry kindling wood is not burned up for several minutes. ... God wanted to find out whether or not Moses could pay attention to something for more than a few minutes."

In other words, God wanted a leader who understood that important tasks often require a significant commitment of time.

Today, we seem to live in an "attention deficit" culture.

Here's something new -- try it once, if it's not everything you hoped for, forget it and move on to the next new thing.

For example, every fall (and now in winter and summer as well), television networks heavily promote the season's new shows, but, if the ratings are disappointing after one or two episodes, it's canceled, never to be seen again.

And, of course, it's not just TV shows.

People want instant success and gratification from their jobs, their friends, their fitness programs and their family lives. "Been there, done that, it didn't work, so I'm outta here."

A congregant once told me that she had come to shul one Friday night, "but it wasn't spiritual, so I won't be coming back."

If you watch a TV show once and decide that it's not for you, there's no real harm done. But the things that matter -- a career, good health and fitness, marriage, parenting, a relationship with God -- take time. And sometimes, you have to invest a lot of time before you see results. If you refuse to make that investment, you'll be left with nothing.

Moses turned away from his daily routine to see a burning bush. He stood and watched it, and thought about it; and, finally, he realized that the bush continued to burn, but was not consumed.

And it was then that God called to him, because God knew that, although taking the Israelites out of Egypt and leading them to the Promised Land would take 40 years -- and that those years would be filled with frustration and disappointments -- Moses would not abandon his mission, because God's promise was worth waiting for.

Rabbi Joyce Newmark is a former religious leader of congregations in Leonia and Lancaster, Pa.

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