Father and Son

Parshat Shemot
2010
Delivered as a dialogue between Rabbi Konigsburg and Hillel Konigsburg (who participated in creating the dialogue.)

Rabbi: In this week’s parsha, we find Moses standing in front of the burning bush. It is a pivotal moment in Moses’ life and in the history of the Jewish People. For the first time, God speaks directly to a human being in order to create history and it marks the beginning of a relationship that echoes to this very day. It all begins simply enough, with a bush that burns but is not consumed. It is a simple miracle that catches the eye of Moses and brings him into the presence of the divine. The sages ask the question, why a burning bush? Why not in thunder and lightning? But the Rabbis see in this miracle a test. Moses will have to watch the bush burn for some time in order to realize that it is not being consumed. That is the way it often is with miracles, they happen all the time, all around us, but we have to take the time to see them, to realize that we are in the presence of a miracle, that we are in the presence of God. Let me give you a few examples… First of all…

Hillel: Now just wait a moment! So you are suggesting that the burning bush represents the many miracles that surround us every day. What miracles? What are you talking about?!

Rabbi: Hillel, is this so hard to imagine? The whole world is filled with miracles; the grass that grows, the sunset, the impact of a beautiful song in our soul. The idea that helps humanity, the cure for a dread disease, the hero that saves the innocent, all of these are the miracles that we experience almost every day.

Hillel: Wait, wait, wait. These aren’t miracles! Ever hear of these things called Biology, Physics, Harmonics, Psychology? The ability for plants to convert sunlight into nutrients through the Kreb’s Cycle is not a miracle. The reflection of light waves at the corner of our atmosphere is not a miracle. The subjective interpretation of vibrations through air is hardly a miracle. They are part of the scientific reality that shapes us.
– Now, the burning bush on the other hand, that was a miracle! Fire that doesn’t consume a bush?! Now that is a miracle that no physics book can explain.

Rabbi: Do you honestly believe that any good special effects creator couldn’t make a bush burn and not be consumed? The issue is not the science behind it, the issue is really the impact of what we see on what we believe. A falling apple did not cause Sir Isaac Newton to discover gravity, but that apple, at that moment, created in the mind of that man an idea that reverberates through time. He paid attention and the world changed.Reply

Hillel: Now you really don’t make sense. First of all, there is a difference between reality and fiction. A special effects artist can create seeming physical impossibilities, but only a fool would think that such a creation is actual. On the other hand, the real world as we experience through our senses – such is a world that represents truth. When Newton had a run in with that notorious apple, it completed the series of events, thoughts, memories, and experiences that allowed Newton to piece together a larger picture. In a manner of speaking, he was at the right place at the right time – continually throughout his life up to that point.

Rabbi: I am not sure what you are getting at. You could make the same claim concerning Moses. He also was the right man in the right spot. The only Jew who knew what freedom was. The only man who had the experience to lead the Jews to freedom. He just needed to be pushed by God to remember that he was a Jew. That the people enslaved were HIS people. All Moses had to do was take all his experiences up to that point and focus them on freedom for the People of Israel

Hillel: Exactly! Where is the miracle in that? That is just a complex web of experiences.
– The miracle in the burning bush was that the bush burned and was not consumed.

Rabbi: The miracle is in the moment of realization. The moment when rational mind meets the big idea, and suddenly, what is impossible becomes possible; that the world, with all its flaws, suddenly can be repaired. It is in the call that the miracle is found. Even if the bush was consumed, the fire started to burn in the heart of Moses and that lead to the greatest story of redemption in the history of Western Civilization. That is why there is no thunder, lightning or extravagant special effects. It is the connection made between what was seen and what was learned which is where the miracle can be found.

Hillel: So why the burning bush? Why contradict the laws of nature? After all, Newton found enlightenment from the banal experience of gravity.

Rabbi: First of all, I don’t agree that gravity is a banal experience. Just because it has a name does not mean that we understand it. We really don’t know why things fall to the ground. Newton only gave us the formula to describe how things fall, but we really don’t know why they fall. No one has ever seen a “gravity”
– In a similar way, Moses was living a fine life as a shepherd and would have never remembered his life in Egypt unless there was a catalyst, a burning bush, to get him to pause and contemplate what he was seeing and to realize what it would mean in his life. Remember, it not only burned, it also talked!

Hillel: But why a burning and speaking bush?

Rabbi: Because at that moment, it was the right event to catch the eye of Moses and bring him out of his dream into the realization that his life could be more than just another shepherd. How many shepherds passed that bush and didn’t see what Moses saw? It was the contradiction of the bush not being consumed that helped Moses see the contradictions in his own life. He was no shepherd. He was the leader who could do what no one else could do, lead Israel from Slavery to Freedom.

Hillel: So, a miracle then is the moment of realization, not the actual event that served as a catalyst for that moment.
– Then carry out your argument to the extreme. If moments of realization are the miracles, then there are infinite miracles every day. The mere fact that I can remember where I placed my shoes and car keys would be a miracle, along with the fact that I choose to eat eggs instead of cereal and the realization that my kippah is on inside out.

Rabbi: Exactly. All of life is a miracle. It is a miracle that we are alive, that we breathe, that our bodies work; that we see beauty all around us. That we pick the harmony out of the static that surrounds us. The things we call miracles, are the moments and the stimuli that trigger the “divine call” that changes an everyday moment into a moment of clarity and awareness. Reply

Hillel: But then what is the difference between a miracle and simply being?

Rabbi: We go through life as if it were a dream. We don’t pay attention to life as it unfolds. We are distracted by blinking lights, screaming advertisements and a myriad of distractions that keep us from understanding that every moment is a gift from God and all of our actions have the ability to bring us closer to the divine.

Hillel: So then, our disagreement lies in syntax. If one were to argue that miracles are extraordinary events that contradict the natural fabrics of the world, then miracles would be rare occurrences.
– However, if one was to define miracles as you have, then the numerous moments of realization that each of us experience would be classified as miracles and would be quite a common occurrence.

– But why then do all the miracles of the Torah revolve around physical anomalies? The parting of the sea – The 10 plagues – Miriam’s well – Water from the rock

Rabbi: These famous miracles do for us what they did for our ancestors, they get us to stop and contemplate what Moses, Miriam, Aaron and the People of Israel considered. Even if we could explain them scientifically, that it was a low tide, a savvy desert expert who knows where to find water, or red silt in the water that killed the fish, it would not make a difference. I may not know exactly what happened but I do know that what happened changed someone’s thinking and the world has never been the same since.

Hillel: Ok, good point. So if we are to conclude that miracles are not the events themselves, but the reaction to the events, then miracles do indeed happen all the time.

Rabbi: And all we need to do is to wake up to God’s call, a call that goes out every day to anyone who will listen, and then let that call change our lives. All we need to do is to stop and listen, and we will hear God telling us to remove our shoes, because the ground on which we stand is holy.
– May all of us stop to see the wonders of the world around us and may that sense of wonder and amazement, lead us to find God in the world and in our heart. May God bless us with open eyes and open minds as we say Amen and Shabbat Shalom.

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