Greetings, friends, family, and congregants. Thank you for coming, and Shabbat Shalom. I wish also to extend my thanks to Deb Kraus, Drake Meadow, Nancy Meadow, Rabbi Elliot and everyone here who supported me.
Today’s parashah, or Torah portion, is Shmot, or “Names;” it consists of the first part of Exodus. Pharaoh was afraid of a Hebrew uprising, so he ordered all of the Hebrew boys dumped in the Nile. A Hebrew woman saved her child Moses, (remember him, he becomes important later); after floating down the Nile in a basket, he is rescued by an Egyptian princess. He grew up an Egyptian, though probably with some sense of Hebrew identity, as well. After killing an Egyptian to defend a Hebrew, he fled to the desert. At a well in the Sinai desert, he defended the daughters of a priest named Jethro from ruffians. Jethro married one of his daughters to Moses, and, as Jethro’s son-in-law, he tended the flocks.
One day, he saw something very strange – a bush that was burning but was not being consumed. God called “Moses, Moses,” from the bush. After explaining to Moses that he will bring the Hebrews out of Egypt, God then orders Moses to go back to Egypt as his messenger. Moses asks what name he should give, if the Hebrews ask for God’s name. Up to this point, God has been speaking rather strangely, repeating words, and speaking about seeing things. But now, He says something even stranger. His name, he says, is Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh, meaning “I will be who I will be.’ This is often translated as, “I am who I am.” Which is the better translation? In biblical Hebrew, there are only two tenses, perfect tense and imperfect tense. The perfect tense means that the action is complete. The imperfect means that it is not yet complete. This does not mean that god is flawed, it means that he is ever-changing; like fire. Since humans are made in the image of God, we share in this fiery potentiality, and are drawn and fascinated by it.
Why does God name his essence as unfinished, as something still in process? Why does he appear to the eye as something insubstantial, and shapeless, as fire?
When Moses sees the burning bush, he experiences this basic instinctual attraction, but he also now experiences the intellectual attraction of curiosity – how can a human understand a fire that consumes no fuel? I also see this as a small flex, showing Moses that he is powerful by burning something without consuming it. This is him showing supernatural powers.
Humans also literally burn without actually being consumed; in the process of using the sugar, glucose, the mitochondria take in food and burn it very slowly. We use the energy to live.
We have had a sensory experience, an intellectual experience, but there is also a spiritual part of this. Does everyone think that fire is spiritually important? It’s important in other religions; In the New Testament, the holy spirit comes down at Pentecost as tongues of flame.
Zoroastrianism, an Iranian religion that has its most important texts in the “Avesta,” also has fire as an important part of their faith. Ahura Mazda, their god of light and goodness has an altar that eternally burns and is considered to be the visible presence of Ahura Mazda.
What can that mean for the spiritual practitioner now?
1. Savor the moment because life is always changing.
2. Expect the unexpected.
3. Understand that your essence is change, you are unfinished. Don’t get frozen in one place. As Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose last name was given to me as my middle name, said about the readiness to embrace change in yourself: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.”
Thank you all for listening.