For the week of January 9, 2021 / 25 Tevet 5781
Torah: Shemot/Exodus 1:1 – 6:1
Haftarah: Isaiah 27:6 – 28:13; 29:22-23
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Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” (Shemot/Exodus 3:1-4)
Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush is one of the most crucial interchanges between God and human beings. It is here that God conscripts Moses for the mission of leading his people Israel out from oppressive bondage to the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Under Moses’ leadership God would demonstrate his power to Israel, Egypt, and the world. Moses was also to be the channel through whom God’s Torah (his teaching, his direction) would be revealed.
There is one particular aspect to this encounter that is overlooked. In the Bible God engages people in a variety of ways. Most of the time, when we read that he speaks, there is no reference to the actual dynamics of the communication. Other times, we are told that it is through a dream or a vision. The burning bush is unique, not only in that it’s the only time God speaks through a plant, burning or otherwise, but also due to the part Moses played. Going about his normal daily activities as a shepherd, this unusual sight catches his eye. Moses decides to check it out. It is only when Moses gives his attention to it that God calls to him.
Moses’ curiosity drew him into this life-changing experience. He could have just as easily not noticed. How often are we so focused on ourselves and whatever we are going through at the time that extraordinary opportunities pass us by without our knowing it? Sometimes it’s not so much that we are distracted, it’s that we are oblivious. Life has ceased to arouse our interest. I say, “has ceased,” because curiosity is natural to most of us as children until for one reason or another, the wonder of the universe is lost to us. Perhaps curiosity got us into trouble. It may have resulted in injury or blame, leading us to conclude that it is better to live life with blinders on. Good thing Moses didn’t become like that.
Many years ago, I read the classic, “Confessions” by Augustine of Hippo, written about sixteen hundred years ago. At the time I was troubled by his depicting curiosity in negative terms as one of life’s great temptations. To him, curiosity was a craving after knowledge and experience for its own sake, but this presupposes a warped understanding of the world in which we live. Curiosity may kill the cat as the proverb says, but the craving that leads to trouble is not the curiosity itself, but sinful desires hijacking an essential God-given quality.
How many burning bushes are we missing because we are no longer curious? There is far more going on around us than we think. God is working to fulfill his purposes in the world. He longs for us to be part of that. But are we paying attention? Or are we so wrapped up in our current life situation, that we can’t even smell that’s something’s burning nearby?
As the current COVID crisis drags on into another calendar year, I am especially concerned. How many are hunkering down waiting for the oppression to pass? How many have put more faith into a vaccine than in God? And if we soon find ourselves in a post-COVID world, what then? Business as usual? Tending our sheep, so to speak, still not noticing that God is trying to get our attention?
The Messiah tasked us to pray, “May your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” a transformative process that God wants me and you to be part of. Exactly how, I can’t say. But aren’t you curious?
Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version