Eco Rabbi: Parshat Shemot – Why a Bush?

burning bushEach week Orthodox Jews read one segment of the Five Books of Moses so that they can complete the entire Five Books within the course of a year. In last week’s Eco-Rabbi post we discussed Jacob’s passing on and blessing his children, this week begins several generations later. Jacob’s children have been living in Egypt and multiplying in numbers but have been oppressed into slavery.

Moses has run away from Egypt. Apparently being raised in Pharaoh’s home isn’t enough to avoid being chased into the desert for killing in defense of a slave. Traveling through the wilderness Moses finds himself a home with one of the Medians. Moses finds a helpmate there and becomes a shepherd of his father in law’s sheep.

While out with his father in law’s sheep Moses stumbles upon Mount Horev, which consequently, tradition explains, is actually Mount Sinai. On the mountain Moses finds a “sneh boer,” a burning bush from which God appears to him and presents him with the task of taking the Jewish people out of Egypt.

The commentaries have a field day explaining the significance of the burning bush, especially since trees are so important in Judaism. Midrash Exodus Rabbah, 11th century exegesis on the Bible, asks why is it that God appears to Moses from a burning bush? Bushes have thorns, are short, live off of any water source; in short, are not divine in any way.Rabbi Eliezer is quoted in the Midrash explaining that just as the sneh is a lowly bush, so too the Israelites were at such a low level in Egypt. So in fact that bush was quite apropos for the situation. Rabbi Yochanan is quoted explaining that just as the sneh, the thorn bush, has thorns but also has roses so too the Israelites have righteous people and not so great people. The Midrash is explaining that God appears to Moses through the most relevant media to represent the essence of his mission.

I would like to apply these two explanations to our current environmental situation. For a long time we have been very destructive. We have also grown quite a bit. One could say that we would not be able to reach the technological advances that we have without going through the process of ignorant destruction that we have. While that may be true our state, in relation to our planet, has reached a very low level – like the thorn bush. And it would not be out of the question for God to appear to mankind in the form of a thorn bush to us.

This being so, the sneh has both thorns and flowers. Our reaching the state of destruction that we have, we can certainly see the thorns. But seeing this destruction we are now waking up and many people are now focusing the technological development towards creating more efficient and environmentally friendly solutions to the comforts that we have come accustomed to. Perhaps it would have been better to not cause the damage that we have, but now we can reap the benefits of the flowers from the bush. I hope that we continue to focus on those roses and do what we can to ensure our future here.

Image Credit: ian boyd

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