The Burning Bush: The Fire Within

In his D’var Torah last Shabbat, Rabbi Kuhn challenged us to wrestle with the question: what is my purpose?

At the end of each book of Torah, there is a gap, a space.  There is a legend that the white spaces in Torah are known as “white fire,” and the words of Torah are written in “black fire.”  There is an extra amount of white fire between each book.  So, last week we completed the study of the Book of Genesis, and tonight we begin anew with our study of the Book of Exodus.  The extra space between Genesis and Exodus can represent a pause, a time for us to stop and think about our lives, and a chance to change, and to consider the meaning of our lives.

I believe this space, this white fire, is symbolic for what we do when we come here to celebrate Shabbat together.  We enter this sacred space to “pray in order to enrich our lives and seek comfort, and to connect to the past and to each other, to celebrate and develop a sense of the sacred, and to commit ourselves to the great ideas that make life worth living.”  [Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman, The Way into Jewish Prayer].  And we do this within the context of Torah.  This week’s Torah portion, “Shmot,” helps us think about the heart of our spiritual challenges and inspires us to confront the most important questions we can face:  What is the meaning of my life?  What is my purpose?  Who am I?

I have always been fascinated by the story of the burning bush.  At this point in the Book of Exodus, Moses is a shepherd, tending his flock in the wilderness, when he sees a fire.  Bushes in the desert region often catch on fire, so Moses did not think anything of it.  However, this fire was different, for it would not go out.  Eventually he turned and noticed this extraordinary fire, and his life was changed forever.  For the longest time, Moses stared at the bush that was burning unconsumed in the desert.  And when God saw that he had turned and noticed, God called out to him, “Moses, Moses.”  And Moses answered, “Hineini,” “I am here.”  [Ex/ 3:4].

This was the turning point of Moses’ life, when he understood his purpose, but only after he saw something extraordinary in what was an ordinary occurrence.  The burning bush is, of course, a metaphor, that Moses realized that he had a purpose in his life, a burning desire to know who he really was.  But of course, this story is not only about Moses.  It is about you and about me.  What is our purpose?  Why do we walk this earth?  Why do we exist?  The bush is the fire that exists inside of each of us – and that fire is the treasure that God places in each of us.  The fire is the gift God places inside of us, the talents that we must turn and notice and strive to understand how to use to fulfill our potential, to understand the purpose of our lives.

Each of us has a purpose.  It may be difficult to find it, to understand what it is.  We may not even believe we have it.  We may lack the confidence to believe.  Someone long ago may have told you that you don’t have the ability to excel.  Maybe your grades weren’t at the top when you were younger, and you stopped believing in yourself.  Maybe someone told you your voice wasn’t good enough to be in a choir, your art wasn’t good enough, you weren’t articulate enough to stand up in front of people, you are too shy, too unsure of yourself.

Whatever the reason, maybe you gave up on yourself long ago, and you have run away to tend sheep in the wilderness, you have run away from the real meaning and purpose of your life.  Unable to perceive the bush that burns unconsumed within your soul.

Moses perceived that a fire was burning inside of him, and he realized he had a purpose – a very important purpose, and he went on to change the world.  He confronted Pharaoh and helped to save his people from Egyptian slavery and led them to the Promised Land.

The message of this story is that we too can search our souls and examine our lives and discover our purpose in life.

But when God told Moses what God wanted him to do, Moses balked.  Moses says “NO”  5 times.  Moses says to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and tell him to ‘Let my people go.’”  Moses lacked confidence in himself and his ability to fulfill this awesome task.    He says to God, “I have never been a man of words.  I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”  But God assures Moses, “Who gives people speech?  Who makes them dumb of deaf, seeing or blind?  Is it not I, Adonai?”

Still, Moses protests, “O God, make someone else Your agent.”  But God says, “Fear not, for I shall be with you.”

Would that we could remember those words, “Fear not, for I am with you.”  Every person in this room has a gift – a purpose – meaning in your life.  If you will only know how to find it.  If you have the courage to use it.  If you “fear not, because God is with you.”

Some are facing challenges at work, wondering if you are pursuing the right career that uses the fits that God has implanted within you.  But it is difficult to change.  It requires taking a risk.  What if it doesn’t work out?  What if I fail?  But if you don’t try, you will never know, and you may be stuck forever in a life that does not use your full potential.  A risk may open up the beautiful treasure that lies within your soul.  A treasure that allows you to use the gifts God gave you that can be used to help others.

The bush burns unconsumed within each of us, no matter our situation in life:  in careers, at school.  Those facing retirement and afraid of new challenges.  Parents looking for guidance in raising your children.  Those who strive to help their aging parents deal with illness or to help them find meaning and wholeness in their lives.  Milennials searching for meaning in their lives and careers, BoomRS facing spiritual challenges.  All of us need help in dealing with the transitions and the nodal moments of our lives.  This is why we join together to share our spiritual journeys and to draw upon the wisdom of Judaism, which has so much to teach us about how to live a purposeful life.

There is a gap in the Torah between the Books of Genesis and Exodus.  The gap represents the space between who we are and who we may yet hope to become.  Black fire on white fire.  The black symbolizes the words we have already written in our own Book of Life.  The white symbolizes the fire burning deep within us that gives us hope and courage for what we may yet hope to become, sacred vessels filled with the treasure God has implanted within each of us.  “Fear not, for God will be with you.”