This week's Torah portion is Shemot. Moses was tending to a flock, and discovered a burning bush that was not being consumed. God spoke to him through the bush, telling him to free the Israelites from Egypt. Moses protested, saying that the Israelites would ask for his name, and asked what God's name was. God said to Moses, "Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh."
This has been translated as 'I am that I am,' or 'I will be what I will be.' The word 'Ehyeh,' in Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh is the future tense equivalent of the verb 'to be.' The letters of Ehyeh and the letters of 'Yud Hey Vav Hey,' God's name that we never say, have much in common with each other. Yud Hey Vav Hey is the name commonly seen in the Torah, but never pronounced out loud. When we see it, we say 'Adonai,' which means lord, but God's real name is the one we never utter. So, Yud Hey Vav Hey, God's name, could 'express the quality of absolute being.' It could also mean that Yud Hey Vav Hey is the third person masculine singular, as apposed to ehyeh, being the first person singular.
I read a book called, "Tough Questions Jews Ask," by Rabbi Edward Feinstein, which had several tough questions. Basically, there is a class that asks the rabbi, who is the teacher, questions. One of these questions questioned the existence of God, because this person couldn't believe in such a thing. He couldn't believe in an "invisible spirit who lives in heaven and rewards good people and punishes bad people."
The problem was that this person had the wrong definition of God. The rabbi's view was quite different. He said that it is important that our ideas of God change over time, otherwise they don't fit us "any more than the clothes and shoes we wore as little kids." Edward Feinstein starts with a mirror. Picture this: you stand in front of a mirror. You see yourself, your arms, head, and possibly your legs. But there's something missing, and it's the most important part of you.
This is your self. This self is basically you; it's not part of you, it is you. It's all your traits, and anything else that allows one to know you. If you see someone, you can't say you know them. If you see them, talk to them, play with them, you begin to learn about them. It's the particular self that is inside of him that allows you to know him. Now, imagine that the universe is a body just like us. It would have a self, just like us, and that self is God. God connects us all, so if one hurt another, he hurt himself. Edward Feinstein uses another example here. Picture an ocean. It's got waves, but even though these waves are all connected, they would still think they're separate from the other waves, if they gained consciousness of themselves.
We are the waves of God. If the waves discovered that they were actually part of a whole, they would act quite differently. They wouldn't harm others, but of course, here we're going a little far, as waves can't harm.
This view of God is so much easier for me to accept than a miracle worker. Now I can actually believe in god. Before, I had many doubts. But this tells me another thing, and that is that my vision of god won't stay the same. It will change from now to the rest of my life. The vision I have of God now will get more sophisticated as I grow older, just as the clothes I buy (or my mother buys) will be bigger than before.
I'd like to thank my parents for helping me with my Torah Portion, mainly my mother. I'd like to thank all my relatives for coming here from out of town. I'd like to thank Efrat Shwartz for continuing on my Hebrew Studies. I'd like to thank Rabbi Freedman for helping with my Bar Mitzvah. Finally I'd like to thank all of you for attending my Bar Mitzvah.
Hi Dustan. How are you doing? Now it's time for your quiz. Don't worry it's just one fill in the blank question. So God calls to Moses from the burning bush. "Moshe, Moshe" (Moses, Moses) and Moses says "__________ ? Hineni! You got it right!. I'm such a proud mom. I'm all ferklempt. I'm not sure I've ever been ferklempt before in my life! But I digress. …
Hineni is most often translated "Here I am" but it means more than that. It's a response that indicates an obedience, a willingness to serve, perhaps something like "Your wish is my command." One thing I noticed about your portion is that Moses gives this response at the very beginning of his exchange with God. Moses essentially commits himself to doing whatever God asks before he is told what it is. Now, you and I and everybody here who knows me, knows that I am NOT into blind faith. I would prefer that Moses agreed to the task after a reasoned negotiation with God. And sure, later Moses protests, and Moses does negotiate with God, but that is AFTER he has essentially told God, "I'm in."
I think there is a lesson to be learned from this, especially for people like you and I who are planners. The big decisions we make in our lives are rarely accompanied with all the information we would need for a reasoned and calculated response. Instead, we necessarily make our decisions based on incomplete information and without the ability to look ahead and see all of the ramifications of our decision.
I'll share with you several of the decisions I've made in my life which have taken me to places that I had not anticipated. About 16 years ago I made the decision to have children. (That's you!) At the time, I thought I knew what that meant, what I would gain from being a Mom. But I had only observed parenting from the outside. I didn't know what it was like from the inside. Being responsible for creating an environment for your children to learn and grow in that reflects your values, changes YOU. It's hard to explain except to say that I highly recommend it.
Another decision was the decision to raise my children in Judaism. You may not be aware that the decision to raise you and Jenelle in Judaism was made by me, not only before you were even born, but before I was married! I was dating your father and we were discussing our potential family. At that time, there was not one piece of me that imagined that I would ever convert to Judaism but of course, that is where that decision eventually led me.
The last decision from my life that I want to mention is the decision to spend a year living in Israel. I made that decision with the concept that we could learn the language and culture of Israel and avoid the politics of Israel. That plan was shot when this current intafada broke out just two days after we arrived in Israel. I learned, as you are now learning, that the situation in Israel is incredibly complex. I learned that it is not possible to be in Israel and not be political. I got way more than I planned for, and I am a better, more perceptive person for it.
We make our big decisions in little moments and the best laid plans often take us places that we could never have imagined.
So today you have said, "Hineni" to, well, being Jewish. Just as Moses could not possibly have anticipated all that would follow from his agreement to lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt: The glory of Mount Siani, the disappointment of the Golden Calf, finally reaching the promised land, the frustration of it taking 30 years, being a leader to such a stiff necked people, conversing directly with God, and never actually setting foot on the promised land. Neither can you know where Judaism will take you in your life. That's OK. Life is like a great novel. If we could predict the ending, it would not be worth reading. I wish for you happiness: things to delight your mind, people to stir your soul and just enough strife so that you will learn and grow and become strong and wise. May all your paths find peace.
Your portion is a special portion, about the burning bush. The bush burns without being consumed. Inspired, Moses approaches the burning and has his encounter with Adonoia. Thus begins the long process that leads to God freeing our people slavery. As I read the passage, I thought about the fact that the burning busy is something that had to be noticed. If Moses hadn't been paying careful attention, he may not have even noticed. Perhaps others went by without noticing the burning bush. Perhaps they saw only another brush fire, and missed the chance to have an encounter with the divine.
Part of life is noticing the special things that we encounter in life. What are the burning bushes that we might want to make sure we notice? What are the special things that we might not want to miss?
Well, I thought about things like beautiful sunsets, taking the time to go on hikes, and bicycle rides. And, of course, enjoying our wonderful Dog Twister. And having fun philosophizing about time travel after watching the back to the future trilogy, or the terminater trilogy. Maybe that's what makes life special. Taking the time to enjoy the special things that happen.
But are there any bigger burning bushes in our lives? Maybe really really special things, with more cosmic significance? One things I've noticed you paying special attention to lately is the Science behind String theory and the world of quantem mechanics and relativity. I, for one, have thoroughly enjoyed watching you struggle with and try to understand some of these things, along with the theory of Dark matter, and the big bang, and supernovas, and black holes. For me personally, pondering the universe helps me realize yet again how very special life, the Earth, and the cosmos as a whole is. I like to think about the big bang, and the early supernovas seeding the universe with the atoms necessary for life, so that second and third generation stars like the sun could form a warm friendly place where life could evolve. Maybe the big bang is your Dad's burning bush!
Of course, Dustan, your abilities extend far beyond the scientific realm. You also like to write, and have written many articles for the Junior high newspaper. And you like foreign languages. And you like sports; woops, no you don't like sports! Well, you do like the outdoors! You're a great son. I thoroughly enjoy being your father, and sharing lots of things together. I admire you your dedication to your Bar Mitzvah, and to everything else. You've done a great job.I thought I'd close with Doc Brown's comments on the third back to the future movie. Doc Brown was asked why a note from the future was erased, and this was his answer. "It means that your future hasn't been written yet. No one's has. Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one!"
Dustan' you've done a great job. You make me proud, and I love you.