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by Rabbi Yisrael Shaw    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

In this week's Torah portion, Moses is chosen to be the leader of the Jewish people, and is informed of his mission at the burning bush. While Moses was tending the flock of Yitro, he noticed a bush aflame but not being consumed (Exodus 3:2).



In this week's Torah portion, Moses is chosen to be the leader of the Jewish people, and is informed of his mission at the burning bush. While Moses was tending the flock of Yitro, he noticed a bush aflame but not being consumed (Exodus 3:2). He went to see what was happening, and Hashem called to him and told him not to come closer, "since that place was holy." The Torah then states that Hashem said to Moses: '"I am the G-d of your father, the G-d of Abraham, the G-d of Isaac, and the G-d of Jacob,' and Moses turned his face away because he was afraid to peer at the presence of G-d" (ibid. 3:6).

Later, after Hashem had taken the Jewish people out of Egypt with Moses at the helm, Moses requested from Hashem, "Show me, please, Your essence" (ibid. 33:18). Hashem responded, "You are not able to see My countenance, for no man can see Me and live" (ibid. 33:20). The Talmud (Tractate Berachot 7a) explains Hashem's response as follows: Hashem said to Moses, "When I wanted [to show you My essence at the burning bush], you did not want. So now that you want [to see My essence], I do not want."

The Talmud seems to be saying that Moses was punished for not wanting to look at Hashem's essence when he had the opportunity at the burning bush. Since Moses did not want to look at Hashem's presence at that time, Hashem punished Moses by not letting him see His essence when Moses requested to see it later.

This, however, is perplexing. The verse clearly states that Moses "turned his face away because he was afraid." That is, it was out of his fear of Hashem that Moses did not want to look. The fear of G-d is a very positive attribute. Moses should have been rewarded for his fear of G-d, not punished for it! Let us attempt to resolve this question by looking more deeply into the Torah to better understand what Moses was being held accountable for.

Rabbi Meir Zvi Bergman, the head of the Kollel HaRashbi in Bnei Brak, Israel, gives the following explanation. Why did the presence of Hashem appear to Moses in a bush? Why did He not appear to him in a tree, or a mountain, or just in a dream, or speak to him directly? Rashi, the fundamental Torah commentator, answers this question for us: Hashem appeared to Moses in a bush because "I am with him in his suffering" (Psalms 91:15). That is, one of the attributes of Hashem is to feel the pain of His children when they are in distress. When we are rejoicing, He, too, experiences our joy, and when we are suffering, He, too, experiences our pain. No matter what suffering a Jew might have to endure, he is always consoled by the knowledge that Hashem is "with him in his suffering."

When the Jewish people were suffering terribly at the hands of the Egyptians, Hashem was with them in their pain. That is why He appeared to Moses in a bush. Hashem wanted to show Moses that He, too, was feeling lowly, subjugated, and abused, as if He were caught in the thorns of a lowly bush.

One of the most important ethical charges is that we must emulate the ways of G-d (Deuteronomy 11:22). Just as He is merciful, so too, we must be. Just as He bestows kindness, so must we. However, this obligation reaches much further.

It is certainly praiseworthy to help someone in distress. However, a person who does not feel the distress of the other is limited in the amount of help that he is able to offer. When the Talmud refers to someone who refuses to give charity, it says that he "hides his eyes from giving" (Tractate Ketubot 68a). One who does not see the pain of the person in need cannot truly help him. This is certainly true when it is not within his power to help the person in distress. While I might not be able to relieve the person's pain, if he knows that I feel for him, that I recognize his pain, and that I want to help, that in and of itself is a relief. To open my eyes and look at the pain of another person and to open my ears and hear his outcry out of my love for him is itself a kindness. This is the way of Hashem.

When Hashem appeared to Moses, He said to him, "I have seen the affliction of my people in Egypt, and I have heard their outcry from before their persecutors, because I know their pain" (Exodus 3:7). Hashem joined the Jewish people in their suffering; He literally "knew their pain." This is why He appeared to Moses in a lowly thorn bush, to show how much He Himself was suffering.

This was Hashem's reason for punishing Moses and not showing him His essence when Moses asked to see it later. We know that the greater a person is, the more accountable he is held for lesser misdeeds. Moses was great, and although it was certainly appropriate, out of fear of Hashem, to turn away when Hashem's presence appeared before him, Moses was so great that more was demanded from him. He should have overcome his fear of Hashem for that moment and looked at Hashem's presence in the bush. He then would have been able to see how abused Hashem felt and "be with Him in His pain," so that he could more fully be with the Jewish people in their pain. This attribute is demanded of Jewish leaders to feel the pain of the people they are leading and to be with them in their pain. It is also demanded of every Jew to feel the distress of our fellow and to share his pain for that, too, is a great kindness, and that is the way of Hashem.


Mazal Tov to Yisrael and his wife Chani on the birth of a baby boy, Mordechai.

Rabbi Yisrael (Joseph) Shaw attended Yeshiva Atlanta, lives in Israel, and teaches Torah over the Internet at

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